The advancement over the past several decades of technological tools for controlled environment agriculture (CEA) has been nothing short of incredible. Techniques such as hydroponic growing have been around for much longer than that, but have become even more efficient and productive in recent years. In this issue, we’re honing in on several of these technological advancements, including vertical farms that allow growers to produce anywhere, automation that reduces labor needs, sensors that can tell you when a plant has pest, disease, water or nutrition issues, and much more.
Technology has also opened up the lines of communication with consumers. Growers can now reach potential customers directly via social media, email newsletters and their websites. However, growers must use these tools wisely. In contrast to 10 or 20 years ago, news of anything your company does or says — good or bad — can spread quickly online. For example, I recently received a newsletter from a produce company with a photo of a crop that didn’t look quite right. I don’t claim to be a plant specialist, but I do know a few, so I sent the newsletter off to a colleague. He confirmed that the pictured crop was suffering from either a nutritional disorder or perhaps a spider mite infestation; it was difficult to tell from the low-res photo alone, but there was certainly something wrong with it.
Now, as produce growing gurus, I’m sure you’re wondering, “How could they possibly allow a photo of an unhealthy plant to go out in a digital marketing campaign?” I thought about it, and surmised that the marketing person who created the email newsletter likely wasn’t a plant expert, either. As you continue to advance the technology within your greenhouse, be sure to also pay close attention to the technology that connects you with your customers outside the greenhouse, too.
Although these technologies can bring with them their own set of challenges, it’s an exciting time to be in the produce industry. Technological advancements have continued to develop and shift the way we think about what it means to be locally and sustainably grown, and how we connect with consumers. What new technology have you incorporated into your operation to make it more efficient and productive? What tools have helped you to communicate with consumers? What technology do you hope will become available in the future? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and weigh in.
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