Controlled Environment Agriculture is the Secret to
Growing Food Year-round
Since humans started planting crops for food around 10,000 BC, seasonality and unpredictable weather has been the one consistent roadblock to growing food year-round. It was only recently that we developed the technology needed to bring plant production indoors, which gave humans significantly more control over the plant’s growth and success. This process of growing plants indoors to give the grower greater control over the plant’s environment became known as Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).
The guiding principle to CEA is that, with the right combination of light, carbon dioxide, temperature, humidity, water, pH levels, and nutrients, it is possible to grow healthy crops any time of the year. Most of the time, controlled environment agriculture systems use hydroponics or aeroponics to recreate healthy soil conditions, while sunlight is replaced by strong LED lights.
The benefits of Controlled Environment Agriculture
At its core, it all comes down to one thing: control. By taking out the uncertainty and unpredictability of growing plants, you can do some amazing things! Here are the top three reasons to grow food in a controlled setting:
In most of the world, the year is split into good growing weather and bad growing weather. Cold winter weather, limited sunshine, extreme heat, drought, flooding, or other natural weather patterns are all common reasons that farmers are not able to grow food year-round. By bringing plant production into a controlled environment, you’re no longer limited by the seasons.
Recreating historical conditions
For hundreds of years, farmers, researchers, and scientists have been tracking growing conditions for crops around the world, seeing which year produced the best quality plant. With traditional agriculture, all this data is great for posterity and analysis. For controlled environment agriculture, it is a gold mine! By controlling the major factors of plant success–water, light, nutrients, CO2, temperature, humidity, etc.–growers are able to look at historical data and see what conditions yielded the best crop and program their own farm to recreate the same environment.
Controlled environment agriculture is also the perfect way to generate new data. A proper scientific experiment requires the researcher to isolate one single variable condition while ensuring all the other conditions remain constant. Outdoors, it is highly unlikely that conditions will stay consistent long enough to get good test results. In a controlled environment setting, researchers can tweak one variable and keep the others completely the same, giving them confidence that any results they gleam are reliable. This can help researchers and farmers determine ideal growing conditions, bring out improved plant characteristics, and even develop modified species that are more resistant to drought, pests, and other stressful situations.
How the Greenery helps you to farm year-round.
The Greenery’s shell has a Department of Energy Insulation rating of R-28, which is just a fancy way for saying that the insulation is as close to infallible as possible. The Greenery is modeled on resilient refrigerated shipping containers that spend a lifetime on the high seas, transporting fresh goods around the world. Freight Farms takes the same design elements and builds them new, increasing the insulation for maximum climate preservation, and giving operators structurally-sound farms.
All this means the Greenery can maintain an average internal temperature of 70ºF in extreme climates ranging from -40ºF - 130ºF and a variety of inclement weather conditions. Furthermore, plants can thrive inside the container regardless of the external environment–harsh climates, tight urban centers, and extreme weather conditions that have no effect on the plants growing inside.
The 36,000 BTU Bard HVAC unit automatically cools the Greenery based on farmhand® programming. The Bard unit is an industrial cooling system, originally designed for data centers. It features an integrated economizer saves energy by drawing in cool outside air when appropriate, doubling as an intake fan and helping decrease the farm’s energy usage when possible.
The Greenery’s LED lights double as a source of light and heat. Usually, they provide enough heat during normal cycles to keep farm interior warm in every climate. However, if temperatures fall too low for any reason, lights will turn on to act as a heat source.
The Bard unit also comes with an integrated dehumidifier that can collect 1.88 gallons/hour at 75ºF, 65% relative humidity. The water is recycled back into the main tank and fed back to the plants, creating a closed-loop system. In some climates, the dehumidifier makes the Greenery water positive. Preserving the right atmospheric humidity is important for plant health, preventing mold and mildew which can harm the plants, yields, and productivity.
Plants need CO2 for photosynthesis, but too much in an enclosed space can be dangerous for the farm operator. For this reason, the Greenery carefully monitors CO2 levels, releasing more from a storage tank to bolster plant growth, or activating the farm’s exhaust fan to release CO2 if the concentration gets too high.
The Greenery has two airflow systems which work together to stabilize internal conditions.
On-panel ducts create airflow in the rows themselves, which prevents microclimates, stagnant air, and provides the plant’s leaves with wind-like air movements that strengthen the stems.
An overhead fan and exhaust fan keep the entire container well-ventilated, pushing cold air from the A/C to the front of the farm and circulating hot, CO2 enriched air towards the back where it is released from an exhaust fan to cool the unit as needed. This system can exchange the air up to 6 times an hour in order to regulate the perfect internal climate.
How smart farming enables CEA
You might be wondering, what do we mean when we say “the Greenery does this” or “the Greenery controls that”...how are a bunch of inanimate farm components sensing and adjusting on their own?!
The Greenery (and its operator) have help. Farmhand® is Freight Farms’ IoT software, which uses smart in-farm sensors to aggregate data and adjust accordingly. Mostly, farmhand operates independently. While setting the Greenery up to grow, the operator sets specific ranges for all sorts of environmental conditions, like temperature, humidity, CO2, pH, and EC. If the levels for any of these conditions deviate from the norm, farmhand® deploys the right fix (for example, turning the A/C on if the Greenery gets too hot, or dosing the water with more nutrients if EC gets too low).
By connecting directly to your phone or desktop, farmhand® also notifies you if any conditions are out of line. In doing so, farmhand® also gives you access to all of your historical data so that you can track which conditions yield the best results, or work with the Freight Farms support team to troubleshoot any problems.
Interested in learning more about the Greenery? Download our comprehensive product booklet and explore all of the Greenery’s innovative features.