By Dr. Saber Miresmailli
CEO and Founder of ecoation
Don’t panic. With every calamity comes the opportunity for innovation.
The current economic situation of the world has led to unforeseen challenges for nearly every type of business, with horticulture being no exception.
Especially in a time of change, growers have to be aware of what challenges they will be facing. If growers aren’t prepared for difficult times, the results may be catastrophic. Unfortunately, In some parts of the world over the next year, many growers will likely struggle to keep their photosynthetic lights on.
When challenges arise, it’s easy to start running around like a chicken with its head cut off. However, in anticipating challenges before it’s too late, there is the chance to meet them head-on.
This preventative attitude may ultimately lead to growers finding innovative solutions that will benefit their business for years to come.
If one thing’s for certain, it’s that farmers are extremely resilient. While there may be tough times ahead, the strongest among us are sure to prosper regardless.
Take the following year as a chance to meet challenges with an open mind. A seemingly insurmountable problem may just be the opportunity that was needed for positive change to occur.
There are 3 major problems that growers in Leamington can be expected to face over the next 12 months, all of which speak to the overall state of the world.
What I would like to posit is that these challenges demonstrate a need for change and that their solutions point to a brighter future for agriculture and the world as a whole. The world needs better processes for food production, and as industry leaders, we have the opportunity to make that happen.
Here are the 3 major challenges growers in Leamington can expect to face, and how they all ultimately point toward innovation and growth.
“While there may be tough times ahead, the strongest among us are sure
to prosper regardless.”
A business is only as strong as its team. So what can be done when valuable labour is in such short supply?
While it would be nice to yank somebody off the street, slap a company logo on their shirt, and call it a day, things aren’t so simple.
Our field of work requires a team with genuine expertise to create a successful business. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for greenhouses to find the right people for their most important roles. This leads to employees being forced to wear multiple hats with problems inevitably arising as a result.
Even if new people are brought in, there are still many problems that can arise. With employees already being stretched thin, the time and resources needed for proper training are often unavailable.
Growers will have to be creative in how they address this issue, as it’s highly unlikely there will be a sudden surge of quality labour out of nowhere.
While technology can’t be used to solve every labour issue, there is an opportunity here for growers to embrace new options for many of the roles in their greenhouses.
Through automating tasks in the greenhouse, some of the pressure put on employees can be alleviated. Using technology to streamline processes like scouting, forecasting and data collection will allow growers to use their limited human resources more strategically and do their best work for years to come.
While there is a learning curve associated with implementing new technology, the long term benefits will greatly outweigh the initial challenge. As markets begin to demand higher accuracy from greenhouses, higher-tech solutions will become increasingly commonplace.
The challenges caused by labour shortages give greenhouses the opportunity to be early adopters of innovative technology.
Also, a labour shortage is an opportunity to appreciate the value that existing employees provide. If someone is willing to stick out through tough times and take on additional responsibility, they will likely be an asset for years to come. Don’t take that for granted.
Spread of Diseases
Over the past few years, we’ve had to learn how to adapt to the spread of a disease through our human population. As it turns out, there is a similar learning experience currently occurring with plant populations in greenhouses.
While pests and diseases affecting crops are nothing new, growers need to be constantly aware of new pests and diseases and the measures necessary to keep them at bay.
This is demonstrated by the current spread of Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV). This disease is highly transmissible and can wipe out entire crops if growers aren’t diligent.
ToBRFV has already made its impact felt, with several growers either losing harvests or being forced to pivot into growing other crops.
Like with our recent pandemic, growers will need to address issues to protect their plant populations before it gets too late. While I’m not suggesting we begin socially distancing tomato plants, the skills of diligent monitoring and careful hygiene we’ve all had to practise over the last few years will benefit you when faced with something like ToBRFV.
Closely monitoring your crops, and taking increased sanitary measures will be invaluable in combating potential disease outbreaks in your greenhouse. By taking these preventative measures, you can be prepared not only for ToBRFV but for any other diseases that are likely to be discovered in the future.
Besides common sense hygiene protocols, we are now witnessing the emergence of resistant cultivars. Yet the changed genetics that make the varieties resistant to the virus also pose new challenges. The performance of these crops and their growth metrics will be different from everything that we have known before.
If you are a grower that has been affected by ToBRFV or other outbreaks, and decided to use a new resistant variety, you need to do a lot of learning before you can maximise the potential of your new plant. This is where technology and empirical data collection can help you accelerate your understanding of what works and what doesn’t for the new crops that you introduced to your facility.
If the carefully crafted cultivar that you used to grow for the past 20 years is no longer viable, you will need to transfer your knowledge to the new resistant cultivar.
You can only manage what you can measure, so use data as your ally in adapting to your new situation.
Finally, is the increase in price involved in nearly every aspect of running a greenhouse. This not only includes input materials like fertilizer but the increased costs of energy and chemicals as well.
At the very least, growers in Ontario can be grateful that they aren’t as severely affected as their European counterparts by these cost increases. Regardless, there are still clear challenges here that need to be addressed.
To offset these cost increases, growers will need to think smarter about how they go about their operations. Some conventional methods for growing may quickly become unsustainable because of their cost.
By carefully examining every aspect of the greenhouse, there may be numerous opportunities to save money while increasing productivity. For example, implementing LEDs to save on energy costs, investing in better IPM to save on crop input, and improving yield forecasting for the prevention of further crop loss and price drops.
Take cost increases as an opportunity for experimentation. There are likely many impactful cost-saving solutions waiting to be found by those bold enough to try.
In anticipation of further cost increases, keep an eye out for any opportunity to cut down on expenses, no matter how minor they may seem (maybe draw the line at rationing toilet paper). All jokes aside, over time, even minute changes could have a much larger impact than expected.
Don’t Be Caught Unaware
As a grower, there will always be challenges that arise. While we’ve covered 3 major problems, there are sure to be more that arise in 2023 and beyond.
Make sure to stay ahead of the curve, and anticipate any issues before it becomes too late. Even if your greenhouse hasn’t been affected by any of these issues yet, it’s more than likely that it will be soon.
For growers that are ready to embrace change, any of these challenges can be seen as an opportunity for serious growth.
Labour shortages, pests & diseases, and cost increases all have the potential to send greenhouses into shambles. However, in addressing these challenges before it’s too late, there’s an opportunity to improve the efficacy and efficiency of your business for years to come.