The indoor horticulture market has been expanding and advancing for many years, and we are finally at a point where the industry is starting to commercialize. Up until now, the main focus of growers and owners was simply getting their legitimate businesses off the ground. Now, their focus is shifting to evaluating efficiency and production costs.
These growers produce a high-value product, but are restricting their profit potential because of input costs (labor, fertilizer, electricity, etc.). Now, fierce competition in certain locales has set the bar even higher, where producing the highest-quality produce at the lowest possible inputs isn’t just a goal, it’s a matter of long-term survival.
In these cases, relying on trial and error can be far too costly to be a viable option. However, hiring a professional consultant can prove to be invaluable. A consultant has the knowledge and experience to advise how to streamline and optimize an existing operation. In addition, taking advantage of these services can help you skillfully plan an expansion or a new commercially viable garden.
Choosing the right consultant can make all the difference. Be sure to check out the credentials of the person beforehand. A consultant must be credible and have the necessary experience and education to back up the recommendations. It is better to choose a more qualified, high-priced consultant than to choose an inexpensive amateur. Choosing the right consultant can be tricky.
Be direct and ask for their resume and credentials. A horticultural consultant should have a horticulture degree, preferably a master’s. It is always a good idea to ask the consultant if you can ask one of their previous clients for a reference.
Top-of-the-line consultants will be knowledgeable and experienced in commercial greenhouse technology, which can be applied indoors. Commercial greenhouse growers of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers have existed so long now that their processes and techniques are nearly perfect.
Model the growing methods of these commercially produced crops closely to produce higher yields at lowered costs, whether in a greenhouse or indoors. Lastly, choose a consultant who exudes both passion and professionalism in their area of expertise. When you discuss your plans and goals, you should feel you are getting your money’s worth. There are a lot of consultants available, so be selective. Keep in mind the traits you require so you can maximize the benefit of the service.
Should I Hire a Gardening Consultant? The Commercial Difference
When you enter a large, successful, commercial greenhouse operation, there are several things you will notice. First of all, it’s clean. From the walkways in the head house, to the rows between crops, a professional operation will be clean. The only exception might be in the immediate area where people are working on pruning, training or trimming plants. You will also notice the employees aren’t watering or mixing nutrients and things of this nature. Nutrients are all mixed in a centralized location in large stock tanks.
The growers use automatic injectors to measure the amount of nutrient solution being added to the water. The watering of plants is also automated, allowing uniform amounts of water to be applied to all the plants. When using a homogenous grow medium, this automated watering will provide a more uniform crop.
Why is cleanliness important? Being clean provides fewer places for pests and diseases to hide and reproduce. Plants will also respond better to a clean environment, even if it’s just an unspoken vibe. Also, laborers just feel better in a clean environment. It definitely holds true that people are more productive and enjoy their jobs more when the work environment is clean.
There are two main things that will get the place dirty: grow media and plant debris. Large horticultural production operations have three basic options for grow media: soil (peat mix), coco or rockwool. Choosing peat mixes basically restricts the grower to using potting containers, which tend to be the least clean of them all.
Peat splashes from pots when watered heavily and if left to dry completely can be blown out of the pot in small amounts. Coco can also be used in potting containers but has similar issues to peat when used in this manner. Potting containers tend to be dirty and must be washed in order to be reused, adding an additional cost factor. Coco also comes in slabs and blocks of loose coco coir, not the compressed bricks you see in a typical hydro store. If you are considering slabs, you are thinking like a professional, but coco and rockwool behave differently.
Coco can still wash out of the bags during heavy irrigations, but rockwool is solid and tends to be the cleanest. The coco will also dry out in a less uniform manner than the rockwool so more care must be taken with the irrigation strategy to ensure a uniform crop.
Besides media choice, there are some other technologies that can help with cleanliness issues. Commercial growers often use gutter systems that hang from the ceiling rather than sit on a table or floor. This allows the floor to be swept or even pressure washed while the crop is in place. These gutters are used when a crop is going to be finished in place. For portable crops, greenhouse bench tables are still used, but configured to take up 90% of the useable growing space. Getting the most out of your space is crucial for optimization.
The next thing to examine when advancing an indoor operation is your labor expenses. Many of the up-and-coming operations spend the majority of their labor costs on watering crops and mixing nutrients. However, well-established commercial gardens focus their labor costs on actually tending to the crops. The mixing of nutrients is performed on a much larger scale using large tanks and mixed at stronger concentrations, but is metered by injectors that provide the proper dosage to the irrigation system.
The irrigation system is just that, whether it is flood or drip, the system saves huge costs in labor and reduces user error associated with hand watering. Technology should be used to automate as much as possible so more personal attention can be focused on trellising, pruning and cleaning. Technology is always cheaper than labor in the long run and typically yields a better result. Often, this is not a matter of reducing staff numbers, but using them in a more productive way.
Once you’ve cleaned up your operation and optimized your labor force, there are still other methods of optimizing the business. Research the best methods and practices by examining successful commercial operations to determine what adjustments you could make that would make the most sense in your operation.
But, since you’re more than likely busy running the business, you might not have time to invest in this important research. Again, hiring an outside professional consultant is the solution. This allows you to tap into expert advice from someone who has already done the research and who can advise how to optimize your operation after a walk-through.
The indoor horticulture market is rapidly expanding and becoming progressively more competitive. New businesses constantly replace those who fail to take the steps to ensure their own sustainability.
Many ancillary businesses are also popping up to facilitate the indoor gardening industry’s growth. If you want to be a long-term contender in this race, your best bet is to seek out expert advice from a qualified, professional consultant. Don’t wait around for your competitors to take the lead.