Tag Archives: greenhouse grower

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

Agra Tech Plays a Role in the Helical Outpost® Project

Helical Agra Tech

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

Helical AgraTech Lights

California Transplants Helps Farmers to Get a Growing Start

Plants are accessed through drop down sidewalls and loaded onto carts.California Transplants in Newman, CA was established in 1997 when Ted Woods, a grower with more than three decades of experience in the vegetable transplant industry started his business. Today the farm operates under approximately 1.9 million square feet of plastic. The plastic we’re referring sits atop the 274 greenhouses that California Transplants uses and maintains on their 100-acre farm.

Transfer cart travels between houses and is filled from both sides.

Transfer cart travels between houses and is filled from both sides.

Benches partly emptied through drop down sidewalls.

Benches partly emptied through drop down sidewalls.

Benches full ready for off loading

Benches full ready for off loading

“Tomatoes grown for processing purposes make up 95% of our business and the other items we grow such as fresh market tomatoes and broccoli fill in some of the gaps,” Woods said. “These fill-in crops will change based on our customers’ needs.” In the past, California Transplants has grown things such as peppers, cauliflower, melons, cabbage and many other specialty crops over the years.

The business model at California Transplants is all about expediency, quality and convenience. “The farmer brings us the seeds and we germinate them, grow the plants and ship it to him,” Woods said. “We get the orders well in advance and then we fill them, so we never grow anything unless our farmers want it. We have eight salesmen that cover the state and our crew varies based on volume and the time of year. We’re in an ideal location, because of our dry and arid site above the valley fog. And due to our central location, we’re able to deliver our transplants to the field with little turnaround time.”

By closely monitoring the seeding, germination and transplanting of all its plants, California Transplants produces hearty seedlings that grow into healthy crops. By maintaining a clean, carefully controlled growing Woods and his crew are able to give its customers a disease-free start plants to their growing season.

“Fresh market” tomatoes are tomato transplants that are grown by California’s customers that are farmers primarily in California to ultimately be sold in grocery stores statewide. “Processing” tomatoes are also transplants, but in the end they go to canneries to end up as tomato paste, sauce diced tomatoes and ketchup, to adorn hamburgers and French Fries worldwide.

After working for other growers for almost 20 years, Woods decided to make the leap to owning his own operation, when a group of investors approached him. “They asked me to start my own business and my contract had just expired with my former employer, so I said yes and put it all together. It’s been a very successful endeavor and I enjoy it. As long as I want to keep doing it, I have no plans to retire. I don’t really know what I would do if I was retired, because I’ve been doing this for so long.”

Ted’s son Mark worked for his father for many years until he came one day he went to his dad and told him that he had what you might call “growing plans.” “Mark worked for me and helped me to set up California Transplants and then it was time for him to move on and get his own thing started (Woods Transplants) and that has been great.”

Woods started working with Agra Tech when he founded California Transplants and “It has worked out well for all of us and it’s a great relationship,” he said. “Of the 274 greenhouses we have, all but 19 of them are from Agra Tech. Jim Bergantz, our rep from Agra Tech sells them to us; John Pound advises us: Anita Pound helps to engineer the structures and Ray Pound’s company Ag-Con in San Jose, CA does all of the construction. The people at Agra Tech are easy to work with and every time we’ve gone to them with requests, design modifications and things like that—they’re always willing to make it happen for us.”

By Ed Attanasio