As the operator of a commercial greenhouse, you will make important decisions related to your methods of production, equipment, cultivars, and technology. Generally speaking, commercial greenhouses grow vegetables, flowers, trees, ornamentals, and shrubs, and are ideal for garden centers, plant nurseries, vegetable farms, flower farms, market growers, farm-to-consumer growers, botanical research facilities, university horticulture programs, and more.
While a large amount of greenhouse crops are produced to supply co-operatives, many growers are also active in farm direct sales. Thanks to the rise in demand for local food and niche crops – such as herbs (basil, cilantro, etc.) and leafy greens (leaf lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, etc.), the number of producers selling to chefs and restaurants in their region has grown. Often, the buyers of fresh produce are fine dining establishments seeking a premium product. These niche crops command a higher price and are often quicker to progress from seed to harvest.
Greenhouse Business Advantages
When comparing productivity, cost savings, and environmental protection offered by indoor growing environments, a commercial greenhouse business offers respectable advantages. For farm operators, these advantages can save money, boost revenue, and sustain the environment. Examples include:
- Less water use – The use of hydroponics reduces the overall consumption of water. Solutions like trough systems, flood benches, and flood floors can lessen both the water and human labor needed to irrigate.
- Less waste – With more control over the growing environment, commercial greenhouse users can monitor and adjust the growing environment to yield more production while using fewer resources.
- Smaller carbon footprint – By using alternative energy resources, reducing or eliminating waste production, and modifying operations to maximize use from fewer materials, commercial greenhouse growers emit less carbon dioxide and other composite materials.
- Customize and control the environment – In a commercial greenhouse, operators can more closely simulate the ideal climate and light conditions required to cultivate crops. This eliminates or greatly reduces the adverse effects of chemical pesticides, adverse environmental conditions, and external contaminants.
- An organic and sustainable product – By reducing the use of natural resources, excluding artificial or inorganic substances, and the saving of energy and water, greenhouse growers are more successful at cultivating products that can be certified and labeled as organic and sustainable.
- Longer growing seasons – By increasing control over climate, irrigation, and heat, a greenhouse can extend the grow season, improve harvests, and boost a farm’s profit margin.
- Control heating and cooling temperatures – With the use of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, separate zones can be established within the greenhouse, ensuring that crops thrive.
- Natural Light – Save on energy costs by using sunlight as a lighting source, further minimizing your carbon footprint.
Through technical innovations, we can generate a larger harvest using the same resources (as standard agriculture). This motivates horticulturalists to invest in improved greenhouses.Frank Kempkes, Researcher of Energy and Greenhouse Climate at WUR
Greenhouses can be custom-designed to suit the individual needs of the operator, accounting for shade, ventilation, irrigation, scale, and more. If you’re ready to begin building your commercial greenhouse, select the Get Started button below.
Choosing a Commercial Greenhouse
Comparatively, commercial greenhouses yield more than traditional farming techniques and use resources more efficiently than conventional farming. A key to successful production is a well designed greenhouse with good space utilization and accurate environment controls. Generally, commercial greenhouses are classified as either free-standing or gutter-connected.
A free-standing greenhouse can have a quonset (hoop), gothic, gable shaped or an A-frame roof. The quonset is usually the least expensive and is available in widths up to 34 feet. The gothic design has a higher light transmission and sheds snow easier. A gable design may use trusses to span a width up to 60 feet.
The natural light introduced to a free-standing greenhouse is uniformly distributed over the entire growing area. Conversely, in gutter-connected greenhouses (below) the roof gutters shade the crops as the sun moves throughout the day. This reduces the light distributed, potentially affecting plant growth.
Because they are less expensive to build and better suited for heavy snow areas and non-level sites, free-standing greenhouses are often recommended for the small commercial farm operator planning on less than 10,000 square-feet of growing space.
Sometimes referred to as “ridge and furrow”, a gutter-connected greenhouse is a series of gable or Quonset arches connected together at the gutter level.
Individual bays, or compartments, run side-by-side along the length of the greenhouse. They vary from 12 feet to 30 feet wide, and have a clearance of 10 feet to 16 feet at the gutter. Bays can be placed together to achieve the desired width. Lengths up to 300 feet are available.
In a size of at least 10,000 square-feet, gutter-connected greenhouses are regarded as the most efficient and economical, and offer the greatest flexibility. In comparison with an equal area in free-standing greenhouses, heating costs are as much as 25% lower in a gutter-connected greenhouse.
Other Key Considerations
Glass: Given that plants use heat as fuel for photosynthesis, materials with high heat conductivity – such as glass – are ideal for greenhouses. That said, glass is unable to withstand extreme weather conditions and can crack or chip under immense pressure.
Polycarbonate: The material is clear like glass, but provides better insulation and is at least 250 times more impact resistant than safety glass.
A headhouse, whether it be one section of the greenhouse or an attached building, is recommended. It should contain a work area for filling flats and transplanting, receiving and shipping area, utility room, office, and employee room.
It is best to have concrete floors throughout the headhouse and greenhouse for cleanliness and access. Adequate drainage should be provided.
Commercial Greenhouse Growing Systems
When growing edible plants, the technological methods used in greenhouses differ. In a modern greenhouse, the operation is very technologically-advanced with most of everything being controlled by a mechanism or machine that requires very little involvement of staff, other than to monitor operational data. Watering, heating and cooling systems, lighting, and more are controlled with digital timers and systems.
Generally speaking, these are the three most common greenhouse growing systems:
- Hydroponics: Plants are grown in a neutral and inert substrate, such as sand, clay, and rock material, which is regularly irrigated by a liquid fortified with minerals and nutrients.
- Aeroponics: Plants are grown without the use of any soil or soil replacement. Roots, hanging down in the air inside a closed container, are exposed to a fine mist of nutrient-laden water, regularly sprayed through a nozzle.
- Hybrid: Aquaponics integrates fish production into the hydroponic growing system. More precisely, it uses fish waste as a nutrient source for the plants after treatment, operating as a closed loop ecosystem for indoor farming.
Commercial Greenhouse Manufacturers
In the past four decades, the greenhouse industry has experienced exponential growth. The U.S. Census of Agriculture estimates that, over the last seven years – 2013 to 2020, the number of greenhouses in the United States has risen by 115%.
To accommodate the increasing demand from indoor farm operators and investors, we have partnered with leading commercial greenhouse manufacturers to provide consulting, design and architectural drawing, and engineering services for custom greenhouses. To speak with an indoor farming expert about your commercial greenhouse options, select the Get Started button below.
Commercial Greenhouse Costs to Consider
Generally speaking, mid-sized commercial greenhouses are available at a price of approximately US$35 per square-foot. Thus, the estimated cost for a large-scale commercial greenhouse – covering an area of 1000 square-feet or more, is US$35,000.
The cost of a commercial greenhouse is determined by a number of factors, including:
- Required Area. A minimum of two acres of land is recommended. This size will allow for facilities, outdoor growing area, access, parking, and buffers. Also, it is desirable to have additional vacant land adjacent to the greenhouse site, to accommodate for expansion as the business grows.
- Construction Materials. The materials used in the construction of a commercial greenhouse play an important role in determining the lifespan of the structure and its maintenance costs. Additionally, crop quality is also affected by the choice of construction materials, especially those chosen for the walls and the roof of the greenhouse.
- Framing. The frame of a greenhouse is the backbone of the structure. The material selected must support the greenhouse in harsh conditions. For those who prioritize durability and sturdiness, a steel frame is recommended. Steel frames are highly robust, low-maintenance, and capable of withstanding adverse conditions.
- Environmental Control. Every crop needs a very specific environment in order to thrive. These conditions can be artificial generated in a greenhouse using thermostats and sensors to control HVAC, lighting, automated watering systems, drainage systems, and more.
- Labor. Additional labor, full or part time, may be needed to support the business as it grows. Studies conducted at Wageningen University and Research estimate that greenhouse horticulture establishments will provide approximately 58.5 million hours of employment, of which more than 90% is attributed to cultivation labor. The location of a greenhouse can influence the size of the available labor pool, as well as the type of skills local employees possess.
The construction of a commercial greenhouse is a complex process that requires extensive planning. Because the installation and maintenance of a commercial greenhouse is dependent upon multiple factors, it is a challenge to determine the exact price without accounting for an individual operator’s needs and preferences.
Better Quality and Higher Efficiency
Wageningen University and Research (WUR) discovered that when comparing the outdoor production of vegetables, protected cultivation has a “mostly better product quality” with higher input efficiencies of water, nutrients, and crop protection agents. Additionally, vine crop productivity in greenhouse farming is more than twice as high as traditional agriculture, and crop cycles are also faster due to the controlled media and environmental parameters. Furthermore, the land productivity of vertical farming is more than twice as high, and more than twice as fast, as traditional agriculture.
Careful planning is needed when establishing a new greenhouse. Proper site selection and location with relation to markets, labor, utilities and future expansion, make the difference in how profitable the business becomes. For help designing, constructing, and maintaining a profitable greenhouse, select the Get Started button below.