Tag Archives: Controlled environment greenhouse

Agra Tech and Lundberg Family Farms Create a One-of-a-Kind Greenhouse

Headhouse with Agra Tech greenhouse behind

By Ed Attanasio
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If you’ve ever purchased any organic rice or rice products at your local grocery store, there’s a very good chance that they were grown at Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, CA. Today, Lundberg Family Farms is the United States’ leading producer of organic rice and rice products as third and fourth generation Lundberg family members are still carrying on the family heritage by using eco-positive farming methods to produce nutritious and healthy rice products while improving and protecting the environment for more generations to come. “Leave the land better than you found it,” Albert Lundberg told his sons, something they still believe and practice to this day at Lundberg Family Farms.

Eighty years ago, Albert and Frances Lundberg left their home in Nebraska to start a rice farm in Northern California’s fertile Sacramento Valley with their four sons. In the 1960’s, Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer Lundberg saw the need to sell their products directly to the public, since it was being grown so differently from conventional rice. This gave consumers a choice in the rice they purchased and began the Lundberg Family Farms brand which now includes over 200 value-added products utilizing 17 different types of specialty rice, quinoa, beans and other whole grains.

Vice-President of Administration Jessica Lundberg first heard about Agra Tech back in 2013, when Lundberg Family Farms started thinking about replacing their greenhouses that had been serving them for many years. “We have a research nursery where we focus on our seed production, doing variety improvement and a wide range of organic material testing,” she said. “We were doing this work in two older greenhouses and started talking about replacing them, because the complexity of the work we were doing was increasing. We needed to upgrade, so we started looking around at the different types of greenhouses out there at places like UC Davis and Chico State University. In addition, we talked to other greenhouse growers, including the people at the California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation (aka The Rice Experiment Station), which is right up the road from us in Biggs, CA. They had just completed a greenhouse, so we visited them to take a look and we were pretty impressed by it.  The Foundation introduced us to Jim Bergantz at Agra Tech.”

Research inside Lundberg’s greenhouse. “Fully integrated & automated controls for all operational aspects; fan speeds, lighting, cooling system, shade curtains and includes a PC based program interface that provides for monitoring system performance and set up.”

After the initial introductions, the process of planning and laying out the greenhouse was the next step. “We had a list of needs and wants and Jim at Agra Tech got us a bid, so that we could get an idea of pricing,” Lundberg said. “Then, we put it into our business plan and it took about a full year until we were ready to take down the old greenhouses and apply for permits. We wanted something that was unconventional and Jim Bergantz’s advice was instrumental in making it happen for us.”

By using his extensive knowledge and experience in the commercial greenhouse industry, Jim Bergantz was able to help Lundberg Family Farms in several areas that saved them time and capital. “We were able to re-purpose a lot of our lighting, because it was only a year old”.

“Since we are growing predominantly rice in the greenhouse, we had to figure out the bench layout to hold fiberglass tanks of water; the lighting requirements; the type of screen material we needed for insect exclusion; the heating and cooling operations in the greenhouse and how we could create a dual purpose “wet room” from the space of the cooling pad room so that we could use it to do pre-planting preparations to soak our experimental and headrow seed lines in water,” Lundberg explained.

The actual construction for the Agra Tech 36’ x 96’ x 12’ Solar Light greenhouse was completed in May of 2016, which means that the farm has been using the greenhouse for more than a year now with great results, according to Manager of Engineering and Continuous Improvement Bradley Thomson, who played a pivotal role in the design and implementation of the greenhouse project at Lundberg Family Farms.

“The team at Agra Tech met the challenge and did a great job from start to finish,” Thomson said. “The completed house system is state of the art with fully integrated & automated controls for all operational aspects; fan speeds, lighting, cooling system, shade curtains and includes a PC based program interface that provides for monitoring system performance and set up. When small build issues arose, as they will, the Agra team stepped up and responded quickly to resolve the challenge. The new greenhouse represents a significant jump forward for Lundberg Family Farms not only in the overall system but also in the Head House space that was custom created for our own team. Agra Tech and Ag-Con worked in conjunction with our General Contractor to tie in a custom head house built by our general with a state of the art Green House, they did an excellent job.

The Agra Tech research greenhouse

View of the beautiful facility area from the front.

Written by Ed Attanasio
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Brightwater Farms Doubles Capacity with New ATI Greenhouse

Brightwater Farms, LLC is in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, a hydroponic farm that uses two greenhouses made by Agra Tech, Inc. of Pittsburg, CA. They recently purchased their second structure from ATI to accommodate more sales and enable them to achieve better and bigger things.

Owned and operated by two brothers, Andrew and Robert Toews, the business began in 2014 and now Brightwater Farms is a flourishing farm that grows specialty lettuces, including Oak Leaf, Butter Leaf, Watercress and Frisee. USDA GAP certified and a member of Colorado Proud, Brightwater Farms is a highly-respected green company that believes in sustainability and helping the planet in everything it does.

A produce wholesaler in Denver buys 80% of all the crops grown at Brightwater Farms, with the remainder going to local restaurants and grocery stores. The business is strong and sales are robust, according to Co-Owner Andrew Toews. “Right now, our demand outweighs our capacity, even after doubling the operation after acquiring the second greenhouse from Agra Tech,” he said. “We sell our products alive, which means the roots are still attached. Some consumers put them in water and that way they stay fresher right up until consumption.”

Brightwater Farms knows that the quality of their crops has to always be spot-on if the business will continue to be successful, Andrew Toews explained. “We need these lettuces to be uniform and they have to look good, so that we can keep our customers and the consumers happy. We always make certain that everything is perfect before it leaves here and that’s why we make quality control a priority.”

By acquiring the additional Agra Tech greenhouse, Brightwater Farms was able to add 8,640 sq. ft. to its initial 10,400 sq. ft. greenhouse, also purchased from Agra Tech. The structure also includes a head house, offices and bathrooms, etc. which makes it 100% enclosed, so that everything can be performed on-site and protected by the weather.

Toews is delighted with his expanded greenhouse and how it has helped his business. “The greenhouse does everything we need,” he said. “We are now able to produce 750 cases per crop every week, which is keeping us busy around here all the time. Crops we harvest today were planted six weeks ago, so we’re turning them quickly and like clockwork.”

Toews became initially aware of Agra Tech in 2014 when he met ATI Sales Rep Adam Pound at the annual ​Greenhouse ​Crop ​Production ​& ​Engineering ​Design ​Conference, presented by the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CEAC) and held at the university. “Adam made a very positive impression, so we decided to get a competing bid from Agra Tech, along with some other companies. After reviewing everything, we decided to go with Agra Tech and it was a great decision.”

With backgrounds in construction, the Toews brothers built both of their Agra Tech greenhouses themselves and are proud of the finished result. “Adam Pound told us that this is one of the best Agra Tech greenhouses he’s ever seen, which was satisfying,” Toews said. “Agra Tech provided us with a lot of useful information about how to assemble the structure and they’re very knowledgeable, so that was extremely helpful and allowed us to put together the best greenhouse we possibly could. We rely on our greenhouses to keep our production rolling and so we wanted to make sure that they were built correctly.”

Now with both greenhouses working well and helping Brightwater Farms to meet their production numbers, Toews is happy to be growing crops that are consumed by people throughout Colorado. “Collaborating with Agra Tech enabled us to double our business and if we had the space, we could double the production again, because the demand is there. People want our lettuces and that is surely satisfying.”

Written by Ed Attanasio
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Trevor Airola: The Student Becomes the Teacher

Trevor with the first group of FFA students to go through the program While most 24-year-olds are out there finding themselves and considering their career options, Trevor Airola has already landed the job of his life and if everything works out for the young man, it will be the only position he will ever hold.

A former graduate of the nationally renowned Agriculture Program at Bret Harte Union High School in Angels Camp, CA, Airola has returned to become an instructor for the school’s Agriculture Department after graduating from California State University, Chico with a BS in Agricultural Science in 2013.

Carrie Phillips, one of Airola’s teachers at Bret Harte, now works with Trevor. She recognized his enthusiasm for this field almost immediately, so she is not surprised that he is back as an instructor. “Oh absolutely, his passion was evident right away and he wanted to learn as much as he could,” she said. “Under the mentoring of Roy Beck, our former director (now retired), Trevor has accumulated extensive knowledge and is always excited to share it with his students. I predict a great future for Trevor as a teacher and a leader here at Bret Harte.”

DSCN1651

There are three pathways that agriculture students can choose from at Bret Harte High School, including Agriculture Science, in which they learn about basic plant and animal science, California agriculture, citizenship and leadership. The second pathway is agricultural mechanics, where they can study about things such as welding, woodworking and fabrication, for example. And the third pathway offered by the department is the horticultural concentration, dealing with subjects like floral design and plant science. For all of their classes every Ag student receives UC/CSU A-G credits upon completion.

Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz is known as the school’s “Green Father”, because he has helped the program in so many ways, Airola explained. “Jim Bergantz is a wonderful person, because he cares about the greenhouse industry and is willing to consult us on how to do things the right way. He showed us what to plant and how to market it. He provided us with a manual that clearly describes each step and we refer to it often. We re-did our irrigation, made the greenhouse virtually turnkey and made it ready for plants. Without Jim and Agra Tech, we would not be where we are now.”

When Airola needed assistance with a greenhouse retrofit at a previous school, he called Bergantz for help. “I told him, I am going to need to contact Agra Tech and I asked him does he know anyone there?” Well, Jim told me–‘I am your guy’. He had just been hired as a sales rep by Agra Tech and I thought–wow, this is cool! So, by working with Agra Tech and Jim, we got it done!”

The Ag Department at Bret Harte is considered by many to be one of the best in the country, with one-third of the school’s enrollment involved in one or more of the school’s three pathways. “I used to have to recruit students to enter this program back when I was a student myself or when I was working with the department while attending college,” Airola said. “But, now that I am here–all of my classes are full. We have no more room so we’re literally turning kids away.”

BrettHart Students transplanting50

Newly married and now poised to perform at a high level in the best job he’ll ever have, he explained, Airola is both grateful and hopeful. “Yes, this is a dream job and a special opportunity. If I can even come close to filling Mr. Beck’s shoes after three decades in this position, I will be very happy. Teaching kids to becoming better people and leaders while showing them how to produce food–that’s a big deal.”

As the greenhouse growing industry continues to gain momentum, Airola believes that his students will be in a good position when they graduate from one of the pathways offered at Bret Harte. “There is a huge need for people who know how to manage greenhouses, so our graduates will be in demand. There are opportunities for college scholarships and so many other options for them to choose from. It is an exciting time in this industry, because of the technology and how it is changing all the time.”

So, in 30 years, when greenhouses produce a new crop every week and students drive autonomous cars to and from their personal greenhouses, will Trevor still be there showing them the way? “I sure hope so,” he said. “This is my hometown and I would really love to stay here for many, many years. As my students get out there in the industry, I am hoping that some of them too will come back and help us in some capacity, which would be great.”

Written by: Edmund Attanasio
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