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Suncrest USA Shows the Way to a Better Day for Greenhouse Farmers: By Ed Attanasio

James Day, Suncrest USA in OKU's Solar Light Greenhouse

James Day, Suncrest USA in OKU’s Solar Light Greenhouse

By licensing its cutting-edge Deep Water Culture (DWC) hydroponic technology to greenhouse growers throughout the Western U.S., Suncrest® USA is changing the way lettuce is being grown on the planet. By making Agra Tech, Inc. of Pittsburg, CA its go-to source for greenhouses and accessories, Suncrest is at the cutting-edge of greenhouse technology and hydroponics, one of the fastest growing industries in the world today.

Founded in January, 2012 by James Day, a former Silicon Valley advertising and marketing guru, the story of Suncrest began several years before in Denton, Texas. It all started back in 1984, when Jim’s brother Robert Day bought a greenhouse operation called Melotex, which had been a hydroponic tomato operation starting back in the 1970’s. Rob Day converted the business into a very successful wholesale bedding plant operation that he named Suncrest Growers.

For more than two decades, Suncrest Growers was well-known for growing the finest bedding plants in the Southwest. Then the “Great Recession” hit and Suncrest Growers, along with one-fourth of all the flower growers in this country, went out of business. As an investor and partner in his brother’s business, Jim Day took over the company’s assets and began figuring out a way to change the business model and to leverage the use of the Suncrest brand.

By combining his brother Rob’s greenhouse growing expertise and his own background in marketing and technology, Jim began focusing on how to grow food more efficiently, year-round in greenhouses. As his research into hydroponic technologies and markets gained momentum, he realized that he was onto something potentially huge.

Deep Water Culture in Solar Light Greenhouse at OKU Nursery

During the research stage, Jim discovered that growing leafy-greens in Deep Water Culture (DWC) for local niche markets was going to be a business model he wanted to pursue. He took the basic concepts that he had learned from Cornell University’s Horticultural Department and further developed them into a series of patentable ideas and trade secrets that would improve the efficiency and performance of DWC systems.

Deep Water Culture: Lettuce being grown in AgraTech Solar Light greenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning crops faster with DWC means better production and by using less water it just makes better sense than in-ground growing. “We can turn the crops 11-13 times a year with our system while in the ground they can only do two or three. We can produce 25 heads per square foot while less than ½ of a head in the ground. In addition, when compared to field-grown lettuce, they use 16-38 gallons of water to grow one head of lettuce, while our hydroponically grown lettuce needs only one gallon of water. In our DWC hydroponic tanks, we start with drinking water and circulate the water each day through a series of mechanical filters and UV sterilizers to keep the growing water extremely safe. It is tested regularly for pathogens and unwanted elements like iron and arsenic. Another factor is that the plants are not watered from above, so the leaves always stay very clean and the roots are the only connection with the tank water.”

In late 2011, Jim shared his business vision with the renowned Silicon Valley graphic designer, angel investor and friend, Lawrence Bender. In January of 2012, with initial seed funding provided by Larry, Jim re-booted Suncrest as a DWC hydroponic technology company to grow Bibb, Red Romaine, Red Oak and Little Gem lettuce for local markets and high-end restaurants. All of his research was finally paying off as Suncrest entered a new exciting chapter.

One of the first moves he made was hiring Dr. Gordon Snyder, a former classmate who had earned his Ph.D. in water science, and had worked for NASA, to join his team as a co-founder. Between their shared knowledge of chemistry and technology, this formidable team continued its skills and experience to develop their unique system.

In 2013, Suncrest’s very first licensed deal was signed with a small flower grower on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle — Plum Hill, LLC. Their greenhouses were retrofitted with Suncrest’s DWC hydroponic systems and by 2014; lettuce was being sold to local chefs and retail consumers who validated the company’s products. Suncrest’s greenhouse growers simply grow the crops and Suncrest does the rest.

By the end of 2014, Suncrest had signed its second licensing deal in the San Francisco market with a major cut-flower operation — Oku, Inc. A year later, 55,000 square feet of greenhouses in Pescadero began producing lettuce under the name Pescadero Growers. Currently, Suncrest has two greenhouse operations, one in Seattle and the other in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Steve and James OKU

Steve Oku, the owner of Pescadero Growers is happy that he is working with Suncrest USA. “Our flower market started shrinking, so we decided to find something else to grow and that’s when we met Jim Day,” Oku said. “We were already thinking about lettuce and going with hydroponics and that’s when we decided to start growing lettuce using Suncrest USA’s Deep Water Culture system. We have a ten acre greenhouse here, but we’re currently using only one acre right now for lettuce. Hopefully, we will add more as we expand our operation in the future.

“Greenhouse growing is safe, because there is a very minimal risk of E-coli since there are no animals inside the greenhouse and we have complete control of the process and the product. We met and talked with most of the major greenhouse manufacturers in the country during our development stage and we chose to partner with Agra Tech, because they believe in our approach of local growing using Deep Water Culture,” Jim said. “They have been very supportive of our business model, because it helps the grower, but just as importantly, they make an outstanding greenhouse that can be optimized for indoor produce.”

Agra Tech is the only greenhouse supplier that Suncrest uses for a wide range of reasons. Agra Tech has developed some highly innovative greenhouse cooling systems that do a great job at cooling the greenhouse and for us, they are what we call a ‘best of breed” supplier.

OKU Nursery, Pescadero, CA

“The team at Agra Tech–from their customer service people all the way to their engineers–possess a lot of experience and knowledge about every aspect of the greenhouse growing industry and that is why they are our exclusive provider of greenhouses,” Jim said. Agra Tech is very active all over the country, helping greenhouse farmers and attending all of the industry conferences and trade shows that happen every year. We have worked closely with the Pound Family and Jim Bergantz and I can say without hesitation that they are among the best in the industry.”

Written by Ed Attanasio
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Agra Tech and Lundberg Family Farms Create a One-of-a-Kind Greenhouse

Headhouse with Agra Tech greenhouse behind

By Ed Attanasio
TrustED Advertising

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
TrustED Advertising

 

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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