There’s never been a better time to investigate what automation can do for your greenhouse or nursery. Automation is a descriptor for machines that perform tasks without needing human assistance. The technology has advanced rapidly to the point that it is being used for everything from basic tasks to complex problems. Some greenhouses have even gone as far to automate their entire process. Automated technology can also allow greenhouses and nurseries to do more with fewer workers, a game-changer in places where qualified labor is scarce.
Whatever extent you decide to automate your production, the result is increased efficiency. Some of the industry’s newest innovations and trends in automation include:
Machine-Managed Climate Control
One of the keys to successfully growing plants is creating a habitable climate in your greenhouse or nursery. Automation can take a lot of the thinking out of climate control, while still giving you the power to intervene and make the decisions that you need to. This kind of specific control can help you to speed up growing cycles and be ready to turn plants over on a deadline.
Automated temperature control can also help your greenhouse save energy, by only turning up the heat or grow lights when necessary, and adjusting to the needs of each crop variety and where they are in their growth cycle. This results in higher yields at a potentially lower cost.
Potting and Labeling
Growing isn’t the only part of your greenhouse or nursery that could be impacted by new technology. Automation is winding its way into the material handling and final stages of your process. These machines can save your team hours of tedious work and speed up production.
Your nursery may need to take several extra steps to make your new automated tools work as efficiently as possible. According to nursery owner Brian Decker, speaking with Nursery Management, some of the modifications that his business had to make when they purchased a new spacing fork included everything from purchasing new, more compatible pots to expanding the size of his facility to accommodate new equipment.
“Automation isn’t simply buying a robot and writing a check. It’s planning and developing an entire system around the specific operation,” says Decker.
Several automated products can collect data from around your greenhouse with sensors and transform it into comprehensive analytics. In some cases this data can be conveniently accessed on your smartphone, allowing you to make important decisions from anywhere. An example of an automated data analysis solution are products that measure water run-off and ensure that it complies with regulations, no matter what point you are at in your grow cycle.
According to automation tech manufacturer Pau Whiting, speaking to Greenhouse Magazine, tools that bring information to a device like a smartphone or a tablet will continue to be a growing trend.
“Not only will you be able to see if product flow is matching expectations, you will also be able to see potential maintenance issues as they happen, allowing for quick resolution,” said Whiting.
Adding data analytics to your greenhouse or nursery can help you and your team to spot trends across multiple grow cycles that you may have missed and adjust your process for higher yields.
In some cases, businesses are taking the ultimate plunge and automating every part of their operation. These operations range from large-scale industrial ones to some very small home greenhouses. Automated greenhouses use most or all of the tools mentioned above, as well as machines that handle steps like planting and soil mixing. Fully automated products also can provide real-time feedback and be adjusted if needed.
Despite issues like labor shortages, the future of greenhouse and nursery growing remains strong. One of the most exciting trends in the industry is automation. Automation is making waves and helping growers do everything from control greenhouse climate and plant watering to material handling. However you want to use automation technology, these tools, if implemented properly, could result in increased efficiency and profits.
Ultimately, the goal of automation is to do more with less, whether it’s a cheaper energy bill, a shorter timeline, or a smaller crew.