Your Life Jacket for the Future
Sustainability is more than a trend; it’s your life jacket for the future.
The financial crisis has shown us that a strong independence of others can sincerely unbalance the continuity of countries, economies and companies. It can even become a downright threat. As agricultural entrepreneurs, we are rather dependent on the availability and prices of energy, water, nutrients, steel, plastics, labor, and everything else that is necessary to keep horticulture going. The smaller our dependency on natural resources, the less threatening price fluctuations on the worldwide commodities market are for the continuity of our companies.
Many growers in Europe are currently feeling the consequences of this dependency. Energy prices that are now approximately 20% of the costs in product prices, are moving to quintuple in the next five years. This leads companies that didn’t buy their supplies in bulk immediately into big problems. Large nurseries will be empty over the winter as assembly lines are heavily distrupted and the continuity of production companies will be seriously endangered if there are no drastic changes within the foreseeable future.
You can critically ask yourself: if the prices of energy have been going up? And if so, could this have affected the dependency of lower cost growing systems?
This example shows that sustainability ensures safety and continuity in the long run.
In the past, investments in sustainability were often enforced by the government. Now, in 2022, I think it is time for the entrepreneur to take the initiative. Not out of idealism or to ensure a specific certification, but mainly to decrease dependence on the whims of, in this case, unpredictable energy markets. Sustainability ensures independence in your operational management, which guarantees freedom, continuity and safety for your future as an entrepreneur.
How to transform your greenhouse into becoming more sustainable, step by step.
How do you start? I have drafted a 7 step plan you can use to create a more sustainable and independent company.
Step 1: Greenhouse accessories
Improvements start with the little things. Are your packing materials, plastic hooks, clamps and greenhouse accessories suitable to reuse or recycle?
Step 2: Water & nutrients
What can you do to make the (re)use of water and nutrients more efficient? Recirculating in a closed system, can save at least 25%. Shifting from outdoor cultivation to growing on substrate can increase the production by 25%, while using the same amount of nutrients. (You can use the same calculation for crop and plant protection).
Step 3: Alternative sources of energy
What alternative sources of energy can you use within your current energy concept? Consider windmills, solar collectors, and geothermal installations. What seemed to be expensive approximately five years ago, can be quite profitable under the current circumstances. Even when the period of payback is rather long, an investment in alternative sources of energy can guarantee certainty and independence for your company at a later stage.
Step 4: Greenhouse
What is the lifespan of your greenhouse cover materials? A foil that should be changed every three years, could possibly be replaced by a more sustainable alternative with a longer lifespan. Greenhouses that produce more per square meter, often increase their efficiency on water, nutrients, and energy. Is there an energy screen available? What is the condition of this screen? And are there possibilities to consider a double screen?
Step 5: Energy concept
When you start building anew, make sure to deeply consider a fully closed greenhouse. Make sure the warmth can be stored within the ground and reused through heat exchangers. Until now, a system like this was difficult to pursue based on economic grounds. While the prices of natural resources keep rising, the mathematics behind this system can rapidly change.
Step 6: Lighting
LED’s can almost double the efficiency nowadays. Compared to HPS installations and in combination with the steep energy prices, the high investment in LED can quickly be recouped.
Step 7: Location
Local to local concepts, where logistical costs toward the consumer can be decreased, can become a new reality. At the same time, we can currently see an increased interest in beneficial climate zones for year-round production.
Stay in charge of your own business
It doesn’t help to complain. The most effective method is to simply plot our developments and move our beacons toward more sustainable and increasingly efficient concepts for our productions. I foresee that commodity markets will dictate the coming years’ horticulture in a way that most of us even can’t and don’t want to imagine. At the end of the day, you want to stay in charge of your own business, don’t you?