Tag Archives: Greenhouse construction

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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The Burchell Nursery Takes on Enormous Project with the Help of Agra Tech

By embarking on an ambitious three-phase project consisting of a screen house, a head house and a greenhouse for insect exclusion and a standalone propagation house in conjunction with Agra Tech, Inc., the Burchell Nursery is poised to start a new chapter in almond and citrus tree production.

The story of growth at Burchell Nursery is astounding and takes place in both Fowler and Oakdale, CA.  Since its inception in 1942, the operation has grown from 10,000 trees annually to over 3 million; 1.5 acres to more than 1,000; and from 5,000 square feet of greenhouse space to more than 130,000. This third-generation company is literally growing in front of our eyes and now their current project is taking them to a whole new level.

It all began in 1942 with “one man, a small patch of land and a very big belief”, according to the nursery’s website.  The man was Irvin Burchell, who started with an acre and a half acre of good Central Valley land on the outskirts of Modesto, CA.  With a B.S. from UC Berkeley in Pomology (the science and culture of fruits) Burchell began growing peach trees.  Today, Burchell Nursery grows more than 300 varieties of almond, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, prune, and walnut trees.  The nursery has also patented more than 80 of these varieties over the past 75 years and also grows pomegranate, citrus and olive trees, plus a few ornamental varieties as well.

Burchell Peaches. Yum!

Beginning in the 1960s, Burchell Nursery worked to eliminate viruses from commercial tree varieties and establish clean sources of bud wood.  Their ongoing sampling process to ensure virus-free trees became the model that is now used by the State of California and their certified and  virus-free selections are now known as Healthy Start Trees.™

In 1970, Irvin’s son Bill Burchell took over the nursery’s reins and oversaw explosive growth, including the addition of 700 acres in Oakdale, CA; opening its Fowler branch in 1983; and its first greenhouse in 2000.

In 2004, Bill handed the business over to his son, Tom Burchell.  While some experts estimate only ten percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms survive to the third generation of family ownership, Tom has seized the opportunity and helped the nursery to grow even more.  His stewardship has also advanced the firm’s breeding program, which currently holds more than 44 patented varieties to its credit and more coming each year.

Greenhouse Manager Jeremy Bahne, 39, has been working at Burchell since 2006 and has 17 years of total experience in the industry.  He has been leading the team as they coordinate a large, four-phase greenhouse project that includes a head house, a screen house, a greenhouse, and an additional standalone propagation greenhouse, all provided by Agra Tech of Pittsburg, CA, and built by Ag-Con of San Jose, CA.

Bahne explained each component within the project: “One of these structures is our propagation facility and the other, our citrus complex, was designed primarily to achieve Asian Citrus Psyllid exclusion,” he said.  “This was built in three phases.  When we started the project, we were anticipating the coming of the Asian Citrus Psyllid, so we started with a one-acre screen house to keep these pests out while complying with CDFA and USDA regulations.  After the one acre of screen we added the headhouse and 1/2 acre of greenhouse, and we will eventually be adding another 1/2 acre of greenhouse in the future.”

Ray Pound of Ag-Con discusses construction with the greenhouse manager in one of the screen houses.

“The screen house is one of Agra Tech’s Insulator series and is 312 ft. long 140 ft. wide,” Bahne explained. “We will be using it as a ‘hardening off’ facility to toughen up the young citrus plants before they enter the real world.  It’s a good way to reduce the humidity while protecting the plants from insects and we can also use it for frost protection during part of the year.  The temperatures in the screen house are similar to those outside, but we have more control there and can keep the pests out.”

The Burchell Nursery grows 30-inch tall citrus trees, mostly mandarin oranges, lemons and grapefruits. The other commodities they grow have different height standards, but commercial citrus growers prefer them at that size and the nursery has become very good at accommodating them, Bahne said.

Phase 2 of the citrus project is a head house where Bahne’s crew can work on citrus plants without exposing them to any insects and acting as the main conduit between Burchell’s greenhouse growing area that is a little more sophisticated and with more bells and whistles.  “We will be able to use this head house to move plants from our greenhouse into our screen house to harden them without worrying about exposure to the Asian Citrus Psyllid,” Bahne said.

The second project is a propagation house, which is a 1/2 acre structure where Burchell will propagate things like rootstocks and other products that they sell such as vegetative cuttings and tissue culture of rootstocks that are used for almond and peach production and other fruit and nut trees for retail garden centers.

Bahne is delighted to be working with Agra Tech on this enormous project because he values the company’s knowledge, experience and expertise in every facet of greenhouse construction and design, he said.  “Jim Bergantz, our Agra Tech rep, played a huge role with this project and he couldn’t have been more agreeable.  One of the best things about hiring Agra Tech is that you also get Ag-Con, which is great.  They have done all of the construction for each phase and it has been amazing.  Ray Pound and the job foreman, Jaime, are on top of everything and their problem-solving skills have been very helpful.”

A drive-through breezeway from screen house to the Solar Light headhouse area without allowing insects in.

Bahne talked to three different companies before signing with Agra Tech, he said.  “They came back with a plan that was flexible and they we’re really willing to work with us at a reasonable price.  We met with them and they helped us adjust the design.  What they came up with was very similar to our original design, but they made it much more practical.  They thought about things that we didn’t think of and that was a big deal, to say the least!”

Written by Ed Attanasio
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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