Agriculture might not have been humankind’s first invention, but it was certainly the most profound. Thanks to our ability to domesticate and cultivate crops, humans have become the most powerful lifeforms on Earth. In the hundreds of thousands of years since the advent of agriculture, we have continued to refine our farming practices, and it is inarguable that we will continue to do so into the distant future — however, by then, all growing might take place indoors.
Greenhouses ensure an ideal growing environment that allows crops to grow strong and healthy without the interference of inclement climate, pests, or pollution. In recent years, greenhouse growing has become incredibly popular with almost every type of agriculturalist, from the mega-farmers to the independent, organic growers. It’s not just possible that greenhouse growing — which is also sometimes called vertical farming — will produce a significant percentage of produce in the future; it’s likely. Here’s why.
High Tech, High Return
Since their advent, greenhouses have seemed high tech. Rather than exposing crops to the elements, hoping they will survive inclement weather, destructive pests, thieves, and worse, greenhouse growers can almost ensure a healthy, abundant crop thanks to the warmth and light flowing through greenhouse glass and the almost air-tight barrier between the inside and the dangerous outside. Such technology was unthinkable a few centuries ago, but now you can find a greenhouse for sale that is equipped with even greater technological power.
Many modern greenhouses utilize complex systems to assist in rearing strong, healthy crops. Most greenhouses are built with sprinkler systems, which release water at certain intervals to keep plants appropriately moist. Additionally, growers in some climates require temperature control systems, which either artificially heat or cool the interior of the greenhouse when the natural temperatures are not suitable. For similar reasons, some growers add lighting or light deprivation systems to ensure plants remain in the correct circadian rhythm.
Though these features are undeniably technologically advanced, greenhouses of the future will have even more sophisticated systems. For example, agriculture automation companies are working toward developing greenhouses that are manned almost completely by robots. Tasks like trimming, applying chemicals, and diagnosing issues could be accomplished without human interference. We are inching ever closer to the world seen in “The Jetsons,” — or other science fiction utopias — and greenhouse growing is just one step.
Another benefit of greenhouse growing is its flexible use of energy. Low-tech greenhouses — the ones that are little more than a space enclosed by translucent material — are effective because they passively capture more energy from the sun than traditional, outside agriculture. The glass or plastic allows light and heat to enter the greenhouse, but it is not as easy for light and heat to escape. As a result, plants enjoy more of the resources they need to grow strong.
All greenhouses have passive energy capabilities, but high-tech greenhouses can also rely on other sources of energy, especially when the existing light and heat are not sufficient. Those high-tech systems for watering, controlling temperature, adding or restricting light, and more can be powered through electricity, so growers can always give their crops what they need. Even better, electricity can come from solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric generators, and other environmentally friendly sources of energy as well as traditional electricity, so growers can be Earth conscious and economical.
Still, greenhouses are not a flawless solution to all issues concerning agriculture. For one, there is the issue of space: Greenhouse growing, though more efficient, still requires large amounts of land; if all U.S.-grown vegetables were transferred to greenhouses, that indoor space would be the equivalent of 105,000 Empire State Buildings. Scaling greenhouses to sate the food needs of the entire population is a difficult endeavor — though not an impossible one — so largescale greenhouse growing might only occur in the distant future, once land and energy concerns have solutions.
Until then, it seems more likely that small growers will start the greenhouse growing revolution. Already, many organic farmers inside and outside urban environments have found great success with greenhouses, and as this style of agriculture overtakes mega outdoor farms, we will all see larger, more delicious, and more nutrient-rich food in the grocery isle.