Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 27, 2006
We’ve been intrigued at the potential of greenhouses and controlled environment agriculture for a long time. So as soon as the spinach crisis broke, we asked if this wasn’t an opportunity for greenhouses. Then Lou Cooperhouse, Director, Rutgers Food Innovation Center, led us to look more intently at hydroponics.
Then Marvin N. Miller, Market Research Manager, Ball Horticulture Company, led us to Bob Langhans and Lou Albright and their fascinating work at Cornell on Controlled Environment Agriculture.
In writing about the Spinach Town Hall Meeting at the PMA Convention, we addressed our frustration with the FDA for not clearly defining how much safety, precisely, they wanted the industry to “procure,” acknowledging that more safety would cost more money.
We gave as our ultimate example that we could grow everything in greenhouses if we were willing to pay the price. This assumption, that growing everything in a controlled environment would cost more, was challenged by the following letter:
This research is exciting, and I intend to take the good professors up on their offer to see their facility and learn more about their research. So far, however, spinach isn’t even established as a viable commercial crop in Controlled Environment Agriculture, much less established as a bargain.
Still, it is a very important area of research with the potential to change the world. This month, Bryan Silbermann of PMA and I had an exchange in PRODUCE BUSINESS based on the report issued by a PMA task force established to deal with the terrible problems the industry is experiencing with transportation. It is not uncommon for peak season loads to cost more in trucking than the fruit costs.
If we could raise things productively in greenhouses, we could put them in the South Bronx and save the trucking. In fact we tried it. Gary Waldron, an IBM executive on loan to a non-profit, started Glie Farms, which got praised by everyone, featured in a movie with Lynn Redgrave… and went broke.
The problem with this area is that, long term, it seems likely, if not inevitable but, short- and medium-term, the high cost of energy keeps killing projects unless they can get a premium in the marketplace.
That is why, though we were excited to point everyone to The Vertical Farm Project, we weren’t 100% sure if we are showing people the future or science fiction.
But the Pundit will go check out the facility for Finger Lakes Fresh in Ithaca and will report back on what we see.