Agra Tech and CEAC Maintain a Healthy and Growing Relationship

Dr. Gene A. Giacomelli at the Greenhouse Tomatoes Cooling Studies at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Dr. Gene A. Giacomelli at the Greenhouse Tomatoes Cooling Studies at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) in Tucson supports education, research and extension/outreach as part of the school’s Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering and the School of Plant Sciences.  Both within their the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the CEAC is known as the country’s leading institution for greenhouse growing education, featuring the finest professors in every aspect of this burgeoning industry. By staying ahead of the technology, the CEAC also offers an innovation platform for plant physiology, sensor technology and applied computer technology.

About Dr. Gene Giacomelli

He teaches Controlled Environment Systems which is an introduction to the technical aspects of greenhouse design, environmental control, nutrient delivery systems, hydroponic crop production, intensive field production systems, and post-harvest handling and storage of crops.

Giacomelli’s interests include controlled environment plant productions systems [greenhouse and growth chamber] research, design, development and applications, with emphases on: crop production systems, nutrient delivery systems, environmental control, mechanization, and labor productivity.

We recently talked to Giacomelli to discuss his role at the CEAC and how Agra Tech, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of commercial greenhouses assists the program by providing education and ongoing sponsorship.

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Q:  Tell us what you do at CEAC?

A: We focus on crop production in order to help the industry to grow, but we also teach the science and the engineering involved, to know why we can make it work or why it doesn’t work. So that’s what we do – we teach undergrads; we do research to create new knowledge; we teach graduates that help us do that research and then we have outreach and extension to get to the growers by inviting them to attend our short courses.

Q: It seems as though the professionals in this industry are willing to help each other even if they are competitors?

A: Yes this is a different type of industry in that regard. Agriculture in general I think – particularly the greenhouse people – are willing to help each other in a lot of ways. There’s competition, of course, but it’s beneficial too as more and more people succeed and that’s been raising the bar for everybody. And I think organizations like ours recognize and respect it from companies like Agra Tech. And that’s why we invite them every April to our conference in Tucson.

Q: From what we’re hearing, there are actually more jobs than students out there in the commercial greenhouse growing industry right now?

A: Absolutely. And that’s why I see all of these other states now at least putting together the horticultural side so they can educate and train students to be the growers. But we’re still going to need the engineers and the technical people as well. We have the engineering design program, but now we want to create a technical, non-engineering degree. Some people just don’t like the math – let’s put it that way. But yet they’re technically directed and they like to work hands on. They could do a non-engineering technical degree.

Q: How has Agra Tech played a role in what you’re doing at the CEAC?

A: Agra Tech comes to our short course year in and year out and they exhibit, which helps us to finance the entire program. It’s beneficial for the students and growers because they can meet the greenhouse reps and find out everything they need to know before acquiring a greenhouse for their particular needs. I was introduced to the Pound family back when I was at Rutgers University in the 1990’s as I recall.  They’re prominent people in the industry and well-known. Jim Bergantz and everyone else at Agra Tech see the bigger picture when it comes to this industry. They know that in order for this industry to grow, it needs education and support. So Agra Tech has been very good to us by waving our flag and telling people about our program.  All of the folks at Agra Tech are always there to say a good word  if somebody asks about a greenhouse – what’s a good buy, what’s a reputable one–I tell them,  ‘You’ve got to determine what you need by talking to the greenhouse reps and this is a good company that can assist you.’

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Article by Edmund Attanasio

Dave Wilson Nursery Builds Large Greenhouse Manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc.

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To increase its capacity for growing rootstock, as well as extend the growing season, Dave Wilson Nursery Inc. is working with Agra Tech, Inc. to design and build a standalone 150,000 sq. ft. greenhouse facility with a wide range of cutting-edge features throughout. For the commercial side of Dave Wilson Nursery, this addition is part of a two-stage expansion plan, with another 75,000-sq. ft. addition anticipated to take place sometime next year.

Mike Farris, Greenhouse Manager at Dave Wilson Nursery Inc., has overseen this construction project and is confident in its successful completion as well as its tremendous benefit to DWN’s production process. The greenhouse expansion was designed and manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc. of Pittsburg, CA and assembled by Ag-Con Construction of San Jose, CA.

“This expansion will facilitate the increased production of almond trees on hybrid rootstock for our commercial market,” Farris said, “which is the driving force behind this recent expansion.”

The expansion not only provides for increased production but does so with great efficiency and labor saving,” Farris said. Phase one’s capacity is 2 million plant starts. Phase two equals that capacity or it will hold 257,000 finished stock in 100mm x 200mm Elle Pots ©.”

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Ag Con foreman working with the customer

Integrated into this greenhouse expansion are a wide range of additional features. According to Farris, these include Agra Tech’s line of mobile trays, under-bench heating, Cherry Creek’s traveling water booms and a secondary overhead heating system, all controlled with a Hortamax control system. The addition of insect screen will facilitate improved plant health and vigor.

Ray Pound is the owner of Ag-Con Construction, a company that has built literally hundreds of greenhouses over the years. Large greenhouse operations call upon Pound frequently to get their greenhouses built on deadline and without complications, because Ag-Con knows how to build even the most complex greenhouses.

Pound has worked on a series of small projects with Dave Wilson Nursery in the past and that’s why he is pleased to be involved in the company’s big project. “The people at Dave Wilson Nursery are great to work with, so when I first found out about this project, we were really excited,” Ray Pound said. “This greenhouse is state-of-the-art throughout and David Wilson Nursery is going to be doing some amazing things in this greenhouse with almond trees. It is going to play an important role within the company, so getting it up-and-running by December is huge.”

With a crew of 11 working day and night to reach the greenhouse’s deadline, Pound is fast tracking everything to make the December date. “I have an excellent crew and by working with Mike Farris, we are really stepping up on this job,” Ray Pound said. “This is a dream project, because it is innovative in many ways and Mike Farris is great to work with. I was involved in several aspects of the greenhouse’s design and offered advice during the planning stage. This is a step into the big-time with all of the companies that worked on this greenhouse, so we’re anxious to be able to see it in action. The design stages on this project started in July of 2015 and on December 1st, we will be up-and-running with this greenhouse and all of its features.”

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Ag Con Construction crew at work on the Shade Curtain

Dave Wilson Nursery grows trees for commercial orchards as well as for home garden centers nationwide, offering a complete line of deciduous fruit, nut and shade trees for the home garden trade. Established by Dave Wilson in 1938 on a tiny parcel of land that he rented near Modesto, California, Dave Wilson Nursery has established a great track record for being one of the largest growers of deciduous fruit, nut and shade trees in the entire country. By changing with the times and embracing the newest technology available, Dave Wilson Nursery has grown exponentially over the past 78 years. Tom Spellman, the company’s southwestern U.S sales manager, has an office in Upland, CA.

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View from headhouse into the Solar Light 42 greenhouses

With 11 years of experience managing greenhouses, Farris knows the ins and outs of designing and building growing structures of all types and that’s why he is happy to be working with a company like Agra Tech. “We have worked with Agra Tech and Ag-Con previously, so we’re very comfortable with both companies and know we’ll be getting some of the best service available,” Farris explained. “In fact, Agra Tech has built all of the greenhouses we have here currently, except for the original one that was built back in the 1940s. Working with the Pound family and Jim Bergantz our ATI rep, not to mention all of the amazing folks in their office–it is great to be working with some of the finest and smartest people in the industry today.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

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Solar Light 48 Headhouse

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Solar Light 42 nearly completed

Agra Tech Plays a Role in the Helical Outpost® Project

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As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of commercial greenhouses, Agra Tech in Pittsburg, CA is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the industry and a huge part of that is acting as consultants for cutting-edge companies. One of these examples is their involvement in the Helical Outpost® project, a sustainable, state-of-the-art, plug-and-play food, water, electricity and communication system that comes in a box and can be easily transported. It is intended to create global goodwill, reduce poverty and hunger and improve health for communities here in the United States and worldwide.

So, what exactly is a Helical Outpost®, designed and manufactured Helical Holdings, a company with its headquarters in Lafayette, LA? Well, in simple terms, it is a sustainable, integrated, and relocatable hydroponic greenhouse and power station featuring satellite Internet access and a water filtration system that produces up to 2,000 gallons of clean water daily, generating up to 10.8 kilowatt hours of commercial grade solar power and yields approximately 2,300 crop units per week.

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Inside Agra Tech Insulator 30 greenhouse with NFT Hydroponics and Vine crops

The growing capacity with the Helical Outpost is impressive and designed to have an immediate impact on a community’s food and entrepreneurship options rather quickly once implemented. Its hydroponic farm uses 80% less water and produces more produce in 6,000 square feet than the equivalent of 3 acres of conventional farming in the soil.  All of these resources unpack from a shipping container with plug and play capabilities that can be easily deployed nearly anywhere in the world, according to the company’s website.

 

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Helical lettuce

Lettuce ready to pick

How did this amazing project begin and how many Helical Outposts are currently in operation? We asked Helical Co-founder, Kohlie Frantzen. “We were inspired by the experiences of combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan witnessing the need for basic resources like food, water, electricity and communications,” he said, noting that the veterans observed, “If a man’s family is starving and he doesn’t have any options, when someone asks him to pick up a gun in return for food for his family, he will likely do it. But if he has options and his family is fed, he is more likely to say no to something like that.” Frantzen noted, “There are currently two Outposts up and running in Virginia and Louisiana. Both of these Outposts are training hubs for veterans to learn how the Helical Outpost operates and is used for fresh, local produce.”

 

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The concept is to provide humanitarian relief anywhere it is needed.

Interestingly, Frantzen noted that the need for Outpost standardization and relocatability is not limited to international applications. “We discovered the need for accessible resources is just as important across town as it is across the world.”

To refine and develop the concept, Frantzen decided to tap into the experience and knowledge offered by Agra Tech for advice about the greenhouse aspect of the Helical Post project. “The people at Agra Tech are committed to the greenhouse industry and we could see instantly that they wanted to be involved in some capacity,” he said. “Adam Pound and the rest of the Pound family brought their knowledge and skills to this project to come up with solutions that would work for us. We were working on making it as modular as it can be and also standardization is another big factor. We now have a standard system that can easily be set up and integrated into the community quickly and Agra Tech played a role in all of that.”

With a promising future and a goal of changing the world one Helical Outpost at a time, Frantzen is hopeful and not afraid to imagine big things. “In the song Imagine by John Lennon it says–‘You can say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  And I hope someday you’ll join us…’ We have a group of artists, scientists, fabricators, war veterans and other great innovators working on this project and none of us are afraid to imagine and dream about a great future. This project will always be changing and evolving as technology evolves and changes,” he said. For instance, solar panels became more powerful and affordable now than when we began the project. If we could have 1,000 Outposts out there in the world helping communities to solve so many issues they currently face–that would be phenomenal. As we strategically rollout this solution and it continually proves itself and gets better, while working with Agra Tech and other industry leaders, we can only anticipate big, big things.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

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