Ensuring that a plant production facility is as efficient as possible is one of the main criteria when investing in horticulture, increasing both sustainability and profitability. The main question is: how many kilos of products does the plant production system produce compared to the input of water, energy, CO2 and land use.
The answer to this question is also known as the Resource Use Efficiency (RUE). A group of experts of the Unit Greenhouse Horticulture of Wageningen University and Research can calculate the RUE for any place on earth and for every plant production system, with their computer models. This offers companies a sound basis for investments in horticulture via custom solutions.
Companies considering new businesses in the field of protected cultivation contact the Unit Greenhouse Horticulture about investment opportunities, based on which the group calculate the various options (the “adaptive greenhouse method”) and provide the client with exclusive results.
The Unit also carries out research that is partially financed by public funding, so that the results can be made widely available. They recently wrote a paper with colleagues from Delft University of Technology about one of these projects. The research was co-financed by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme and the Dutch government’s Top Sector Horticulture and Starting Materials.
The paper applied the approach of the Wageningen scientists and shows that it results in concrete and applicable figures. Investors in greenhouses or other plant production systems can use these figures to make well-founded decisions which minimise risks and maximise sustainability and profitability.
An example in the publication looks at three locations: Northern Sweden, Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands, and compares greenhouses to plant factories: multi-layered plant production systems in closed, conditioned spaces. When comparing these specific situations, it was shown that no system is better in all aspects. A greenhouse is more energy-efficient than vertical agriculture (with current technology), even in places where the use of solar energy is linked to major disadvantages. Vertical agriculture can be feasible if other resources (such as water or land) are scarce and/or it offers a better marketing/logistic perspective than greenhouses.