Greenhouse design trends

Ask the Experts - Structures

Atlas Manufacturing sales professional Stuart Sumner lays out what is popular with new structure projects in the controlled environment agriculture market.

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November 17, 2020

Greenhouse produce growers like West Georgia Produce (pictured) are integrating supplemental lighting into the overall facility design.
Photos Courtesy of Atlas Greenhouses
Sumner recommends new builds feature insect exclusion structures to help alleviate the need for insecticide treatments.

Atlas Manufacturing greenhouse sales rep Stuart Sumner says interest in new structures has never been higher. “We have customers in various sectors of this industry that had very productive years despite COVID-19,” he says. “Due to this, we are seeing more interest and enthusiasm heading into 2021.”

According to Sumner, the following five trends in greenhouse structure innovation seem to be popping up more and more across the projects he has worked recently:

  1. Positive pressure (PP) ventilation cooling — Produce growers are taking a closer look at PP ventilation systems, especially in hot and humid climates where a traditional system that draws more humidity from outside is not ideal, Sumner says. “When growing in a high humidity climate, adding additional humidity through an evaporative cooling system in a negative pressure setting can have a detrimental effect on crops,” he says. “You will be much more likely to experience issues with fungal pathogens and have a greater need for humidity control equipment.”
  2. Supplemental lighting — Sumner answers a lot of questions about supplemental lighting during the design phase. “There is a lot more interest surrounding LED options for supplemental lighting and the technology itself is rapidly evolving,” Sumner says. “Companies are constantly innovating these lights to be more energy efficient and effective at targeting the desired spectral wavelengths of PAR light. The traditional HPS fixtures may be the most commonly used at this time, but I believe the LEDs may overtake them as the most frequently used at some point in the future.”
  3. Taking sidewall height even higher — Growers are also interested in installing the highest sidewalls structurally-possible in new builds, Sumner says. This strategy allows for a larger area at the top of the structure to push and store hot, humid air far away from the plant canopy down below, he says. “It’s true that the higher you can go [on sidewalls], the more optimal situation you are in from a ventilation and cooling perspective,” Sumner says. “With everyone wanting to get those sidewalls as high as they can be, I like to joke that by 2050 we’ll all be growing crops in skyscrapers.”
  4. Hydroponic grow systems — From the ubiquitous “Dutch” bucket style for peppers and tomatoes to the popular vertical farming and deep-water culture growing systems, grower interest in replacing soil with growing media and oxygenated water has never been higher. “We are seeing commercial growers utilizing hydroponic grow systems such as Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) systems that can reduce the expected harvest time considerably when compared to more traditional grow methods. I believe we will begin to see this system become more popular as we move forward.”
  5. Insect exclusion structures — Companies like Atlas are recommending growers, regardless of crop, consider built-in insect protection measures. Sumner refers to these design add-ons as “insect exclusion structures.” Extending the frame of the greenhouse out on opposite ends a set distance, and then covering that area between the ventilation equipment and the outside with woven insect proof materials helps prevent insect intrusions from the cool outside air. “This is something that we really think is worth a grower’s investment in the long term. It will save you money,” he says.