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Greenhouse Intensive Farming (GIF), a Future Major Food Source Worldwide
People are concentrated in cities
Why commercial greenhouses?
Greenhouse Intensive Farming (“GIF”) is a practice coming to a city near you within the next decade made possible by advances in LED lighting technologies and the tens of thousands of people who have advanced various intensive techniques (hydroponics, aquaponics, etc.) over the past fifty years.
A greenhouse allows you to control the light frequencies and intensity, the photo period, temperature, humidity, insects, and nutrients in such a manner that allows growth of vegetables year round, in higher densities, with reduced losses, and faster cycles.
Farms in my southern California area produce crops year round because of the moderate climate, but must are carefully crafter to meet the, well, can we even call them “seasons?” GIF farming controls the water use, light intensity and humidity preventing Mother Nature (with all due respect) from poking her nose into the farming business burning leaves, drying crops, causing bitterness, and so forth.
GIF farming controls all factors and therefore is capable of producing crops with very small a fraction of the water, and, with LED lighting, a fraction of the energy this used to demand just years ago.
In this controlled microcosm, you can mimic the climate of any section of the world. You also have more control of the climate, leading to better crops.
Impact on Cities
Imagine the nutritional impact of freshly picked vine ripened tomatoes in Victoria and Fairbanks in January? Lettuce picked fresh and crisp in Qatar or Cairo? Or fresh Cucumbers in London or Copenhagen for Christmas?
The crop yield from GIF greenhouses is high, and continuous. All factors are controlled continuously and deliberately to produce the best crop possible. Strange as this might sound, it is best done using organic processes, which means even the average person can afford healthier, fresher foods with superior nutrient density they could have otherwise.
Using organic techniques I have developed allows for a broader, more natural spectrum of nutrients in the plans, and nutrients have a flavor profile, so the plants taste better than older greenhouse techniques.
By controlling the plant pests, and eliminating the use of pesticides, food quality rises and toxicity is eliminated. Even naturally occurring heavy metals are bound by organic nutrients and not allowed into plants. Think of organics as policemen guarding and protecting the gate (root tips) where the plants takes in nutrients.
An incredible aspect of this technique is than every city has room for this kind of agriculture. GIF can be accomplished in abandoned buildings creating AG jobs in the heart of, say, Detroit, in the dead of winter. The land needed is fractioned first because of the minimal losses, and then because of the minimal space needed and literal stacking of plants in a shelf system, each with its own light sources.
Large food productivity is possible with far less land, albeit at higher initial cost, creating a large economy of scale contributing to the ability to localize the farming, and actually localize productivity. Perhaps Quebec prefers Butter Lettuce and Chicago Romaine lettuce, the output can be localized.
Where do you live?
Do you live in a city larger than 100,000 people?
Pests and Pesticide Control
Pesticides are often used and overused on agricultural products to help protect them. Ignoring the environmental damages, the issue to humans is that they are hard to get out of, or off of your food. We ingest small amounts of pesticides when we eat foods so treated.
Fruits and vegetables purchased from farms that promote intensive farming contain small amounts of pesticides either on their skins, or in their tissues with cannot be washed off. While these may target a specific enzyme or process inside of an insect, it is not the case that they have no effect on people.
By complete control of a limited environment such as in Greenhouse Intensive Farming, the threat of insects can be eliminated without poison. A simple technique is to fill the environment with CO2 for twenty four hours or more, according to the insect. Once vacated, the CO2 has only positive effects on the greenhouse.
By controlling the nutrient to the plant you strengthen the plant which also helps fight off any organism that may incidentally reach it, and improve its nutrient content and flavor at the same time. You simple create a superior product.
Photo Cycle and Bolting
Growth of the plant is due to photosynthesis, of course, which requires light, CO2 and water. The length of the photo period, but more specifically the length of the dark period control the bloom of the plant though long wavelengths of light, i.e. the reds. The shorter the dark period the stronger these select phytochromes signal the plant to bloom.
In lettuce this is called bolting and results in bitter substances such as sesquiterpenes. Sometimes entire crops are lost.
By tight control of the growth period, that is, shortening that period to thirty days, the blooming cycle is prevented, the lettuce harvested without these and other bitter substances.
But in nature there are greater issues with light. Excessive light, such as occurs in a southern California “Santa Anna” event where winds blow from the desert down the Santa Anna Valley, produce very clear skies, and so very strong light at the same time they reduce the humidity into the single digits, which can cause yellowing, or burning of leaves, and at times partly or completely destroy plants.
I hate to mention that I live in San Diego, it is the end of January, I had a small window open with a fan blowing all night and the house was 70F when I got up at 5:00am. But for the rest of the world, the limiting factor in growing crops can be heat, it is usually cold.
Controlling the environment of field is an issue. Florida and California citrus crops are adversely effected by cold snaps as I can attest to with the few trees I have in my backyard. Enormous damage is done, and tree crops are well beyond the scope of this article, however, the same is true worldwide for crops that can be grown in greenhouses.
California grows more vegetable crops that the rest of the United States combined. In particular, the Imperial Valley grows billions of dollars of lettuce every year and we seem to be in a long term drought.
Use of the Colorado has meant the US has defaulted on treaties with Mexico to allow a minimum of 3,000,000 acre feet of river water across the border below certain salinity standards. We now pay for a large desalination plant in Baja to help us meet the salinity standard but the volume is usually an issue.
Realize also that the river almost never reaches the Gulf of California. That’s right, the mighty Colorado River is consumes by the US and Mexico and water wars loom both internationally and interstate battles for surface and ground water.
Radical techniques for conserving water are being put into place. To prevent groundwater losses, tiles are put under the soils. Water is tightly monitored, soil additives used to hold water, but millions of gallons per day are lost to evaporation both from the pen canals, the open fields, and necessarily from the plants themselves. While the wind carries this moisture off in an open field, this is not lost in the case of a controlled GIF environment.
Using these techniques US cities can grow crops not only year round, but with a small fraction of the water used for crops in California.
Improved LED lighting
LED lighting has just recently reached the point where proper spectrums can be produced to minimize energy use and maximize growth and nutrient production in plants.
Low Pressure Sodium lamps, which, because of their intensity and spectrum are traditionally a favorite of closed space growers such as surreptitious and illegal Marijuana growers and greenhouses can and are now being replaced with LED lights.
The initial investments are higher but the lifespan is approximately double that of Low Pressure Sodium and the electricity consumption is a small fraction of the sodium lamps. Savings are also achieved in the heat removal required when using sodium lamps. This is not the case with LED lights.
Northern climates are usually limited to a single crop each year. The farther south, in warmer climates, two or three crops per year of leafy vegetables are possible.
With the increased photoperiods possible in GIF, this can be increased to twelve or thirteen crops per year and each using far less space.
Because of this the production can be planned to be a daily output every day of the year. Specialized crops such as herbs can be regularly produced in controlled volumes. Some, used in higher volumes such as parsley or cilantro can be planned as daily or weekly crops.
In conclusion I would say that in the coming decade Greenhouse Intensive Farming (“GIF”) will be seen in most cities with populations exceeding 100,000 people.
Each case, each building can be specially adapted using specific equipment to fit into the building selected using GIF techniques.
Northern climates will need heat sources, but southern climates may not. Real estate previous abandoned can be acquired for less than construction cost and converted into very high volume farms with local contracts for crops.
This provides the local economy with fresh nutritious foods, and jobs.
When paired to other industries and intensive ranching, such as chicken or egg farms, coordinated foods which are waste to the farming company can be consumed by the chickens, and chicken waste used as fertilizer for the plants. CO2 given off by an industrial plant required to be captured can be used by the vegetable crop to increase growth rates. Increasing the CO2 on the building from the atmospheric concentration of about 0.04% or a concentration of 0.0004 (if this is a correct metric), and bringing it to ten times this level, or 0.4%, 4000ppm (but not higher) will significantly increase the growth rate of plants. (When CO2 concentration reached 5000ppm, or ½ 0f 1% people begin to have breathing issues, not seen at ten times current atmospheric levels.)
This is one irony of CO2 added to aquariums, it increases the growth rate of plans, and therefore the oxygen concentration and the fish thrive assuming there is sufficient light and water to proceed with photosynthesis. It is the homeostasis seeking balance of nature.
© 2015 Ronald A Newcomb