I’ve learned from successful greenhouse growers that they always have an organized system for producing crops. That is, each successful grower uses a holistic approach: the humidity remains “just right”; temperatures stay within a narrow range; lights have specific spectra; nutrient formulas are precise and are applied in a rigorous schedule.

What impresses me, is that growers attend to all these factors simultaneously. That’s what a holistic approach entails.

The same mindset should be brought to energy and water use. After all, utilities are usually the second largest cost centre for most greenhouse growing operations. Water, along with heat and light energy, are always critical to the growing environment.

In my view, a greenhouse growing system is only holistic if it includes good energy management.

I recently had the privilege of exploring these issues in a webinar sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Our panel was convened to discuss the impacts of integrating a new technology – black out curtains – into the multi-factor growing environment of greenhouses. Installing black out curtains will impact all the other factors in a grower’s crop production system. Without a holistic approach, introducing a new technology like black out curtains can easily cause major, undesired disruptions.

A robust energy management system can quickly identify where a new technology is having unwanted or unexpected consequences.

For example, energy management will determine a facility’s energy balance and energy baseline from the get-go. A robust monitoring and reporting system will provide real time consumption data so any disruptive impact from introducing a new technology can be promptly managed.

As another example, a return on investment for new technology cannot be validated unless the impact on energy costs is known. Some of the most important cost factors to be considered include: the commodity price of utilities; energy productivity improvements achieved; even the time of day or night when energy is used throughout a building.

Growers usually fly blind regarding their utility costs. A holistic energy management program overcomes that gap.

For this reason, many successful growers are incorporating energy management into their system for growing crops. They realize it’s what makes their system holistic.

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