Let’s Look at the Realities…

You Might Be Surprised!

We are certainly living in a time of unparalleled technological advancement in general but certainly in the agricultural field.

We’re constantly looking for that latest and greatest “thing” to make our lives easier or to solve one of our existing problems. In controlled environment agriculture, we’ve sought to improve our overall yields and quality by altering the growing environment. We’ve made tremendous improvements to that end by providing more optimum levels of temperature, light, C02, nutrients, dissolved oxygen and more. For the most part, I would consider this all highly successful.

We have also modified our growing systems to effectively manage our plant populations – our greenhouse “real estate,” if you will.

To this end, one of the latest and most heralded “cool, flashy, and sexy” technologies attempting to increase production is to hang NFT channels vertically—- essentially stacking production UP, instead of OUT. We’ve seen quite a bit of this “vertical revolution” these past few years.

Initially, these “towers” were promoted for use in greenhouses. Despite significant issues with inconsistent growth (due to insufficient light reaching the plants toward the bottom), we began to see this technology proliferate and it began to move indoors as well. At the present time, these towers are a staple in many of the major “shipping container” farms, as well as some indoor growing applications.

vertical system

Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen them all. This recent “farming revolution” has certainly received a lion’s share of publicity and accolades from the media and others. The claim is that these vertical tower systems are “revolutionary technology” and are to be the “future of food.” However, many questions have been raised about the actual effectiveness, sustainability or productivity of trying to install growing systems and crops into a metal box or stacking them up inside a building that was not designed for horticultural production. Despite the “cool factor” of making such a choice, wouldn’t it make more sense to put our production into a properly designed growing environment, such as a greenhouse? This is certainly a very valid question, one that I will be addressing in depth in an upcoming article. In the meantime, let’s look at the effectiveness (?) of hanging our plants vertically.

NFT vs Towers

So why DO we see so many shipping containers and indoor farms promoting the use of vertical towers?

The practice is based on the concept that hanging NFT growing channels vertically, up and down, utilizes more growing space and achieves higher plant populations. “Look!” they say, “When we plant the crops on a vertical plane, we achieve higher production than those horizontal NFT systems!”

It makes sense, doesn’t it, that growing plants vertically would allow more plants per square foot. I mean, a vertical tower would provide more plants and thus higher production, right?

Actually, the answer is no.

When you look closer and break it down, the numbers tell a very different story.

horizontal NFT channels

 

Here are two similar growing systems. One is a horizontal NFT system, demonstrating proper real estate management, and the other is a system of vertical hanging NFT towers-utilizing vertical height in an attempt to get more plants in a given footprint.

When we look at these two systems, we can see that we actually get MORE plants and HIGHER overall production with horizontal NFT in EXACTLY the same footprint.

So how do we do this? By properly utilizing our technologies and real estate management.

It’s really as simple as that.

I know this appears to fly in the face of logic and common sense, but when you examine the data, you see that it’s true.

Despite outward appearances, the horizontal NFT system actually contains almost 4 thousand more plant sites than the vertical towers, all while still maintaining the proper parameters for crop growth.

Given the same crop growth rates in both systems, the horizontal system yields over 40 thousand MORE harvestable crop plants per year than the vertical tower system.

40 thousand more.

If we’re selling lettuce for example, at $1.50 per head, we are looking at more than $60,000 per year in additional revenue……all with essentially the same production costs.

Do I want a simple technology that yields $60,000 more in revenue per year?

You bet I do.

nft system

High Quality – High Yields – Consistent Production. Every day, all the time.

This is why you MUST look closely at ALL technologies……….what they CAN do for you…….as well as what happens when you fail to evaluate them properly.

Failure to correctly analyze just his one technology can mean the difference in over $60,000 PER YEAR in additional revenue in the same amount of growing area, with the same basic financial inputs. That’s a STAGGERING difference!

nft crop production
Proper “real estate management” at correct growth parameters = good crops! You can’t replicate this with a vertical system!

With the technological explosion going on around us, it is easy to see the “flash” of a particular technology but miss the substance. Don’t make this mistake. When looking at those “cool” or “sexy” technologies, did deeper.

Take a good look at the crops.

Are they of appropriate market size? What is the quality like? Are the plants all consistent throughout the crop?

Look beyond the wall of green. Look at the individual crops.

Could you sell these on the open market at a price point that is economically sustainable?

If you don’t know the answers to these and other questions, I strongly suggest that you look a little deeper. We can all TELL you about our technologies, and what’s effective. But, if we can’t also SHOW you, then none of what we say is credible. Evaluating with this critical eye will serve you well as you decide on the technologies to best serve your needs.



Joe Swartz

Author Joe Swartz

Involved in all aspects of the Hydroponics Industry. Currently in my 32nd year as a commercial hydroponic vegetable and herb grower. (Over 50,000 hours of greenhouse production time). I am experienced in all levels of design, set up, crop scheduling, workforce training, and specialty produce marketing. I have consulted for growers/investors across the United States, Canada, the Middle East, Western Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia.

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