Looking back just a couple of decades, it’s both amazing and confounding to see how many technological advancements have arisen in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) growing. For example, tools such as digital ballasts that were once considered cutting-edge are quickly outdated and replaced. Modern growers are forced to look at the hydroponics equipment market with a discerning eye, in hopes of choosing technology that will be both functional as well as compatible with novel innovations.
It’s worth noting the utility of high-tech cultivation tools can vary greatly with the size and scope of a garden operation. For the hobbyist grower producing crops in a 4x4-foot grow tent, an advanced fertigation system is automation overkill. Similarly, for a commercial vertical farming operation, a top-of-the-line pH pen probably won’t cut it for the daily monitoring of pH levels in thousands of gallons of water. Therefore, while the applicability of high-tech garden tools in certain scenarios is undeniable, their overall value is situationally relative.
For those growers looking to ramp-up their garden operations with a modern facelift, or those just curious if high-tech growing is a good fit for them, Maximum Yield put together a brief look at some innovate garden technologies. Here is a short overview of high-tech tools for growrooms in 2018:
Grow Medium / Atmospheric Sensors in the Garden
The implementation of sensor matrices throughout growrooms are giving modern cultivators a real-time understanding of garden environments. As most experienced indoor growers know, growroom operations are plagued by inconsistencies — these are notoriously difficult to detect in a uniform and intelligible manner. For instance, cultivation mediums retain water in varying capacities in different parts of a room. Also, many indoor gardens have drastically different environmental conditions throughout a room, as well as “dead spots” in air circulation. To alleviate many of these challenges, tech companies have devised both soil meters and atmospheric sensors that can detect anomalies in the growroom before they start to express themselves negatively in plant health. Concerning moisture meters in grow mediums, they give cultivators a real-time understanding of watering needs in their gardens, helping avoid issues with overwatering. Individual atmospheric sensors give a reading on environmental conditions throughout a growroom and various parts of a garden canopy, which can be proactively rectified to avoid issues with mold and pathogens.
Software for the Garden
One of the largest tech crazes in commercial CEA growing today has to do with software programs, as computers can utilize data metrics to help streamline production. For example, according to the website Fortune, the vertical farming company Bowery “has developed what it says is a proprietary software system with a robust network of sensors that takes in data in real time to determine outcomes like the quality, texture, color, and yield of its plants.” While it is evident that the sort of software being developed by Bowery is beyond the scope of the hobbyist grower, its efficacy for commercial applications is noteworthy. Because, when used in conjunction with sensors, this software can track and catalog many fine nuances of CEA growing — a practice that is literally beyond the scope of human capabilities. As such, software programs can provide information on almost every aspect of a garden, providing the most efficient troubleshooting platforms horticulture has ever known.
Shelving for the Garden
While many people don’t necessarily consider shelving to be high-tech, the use of shelving units engineered specifically for cultivation have literally revolutionized indoor gardening methods in the past decade. Currently, the practice of vertical farming would be non-existent without these forward-looking infrastructures. It's important to note vertical farming shelf units are engineered to do far more than hold plants; the most advanced units have electrical and irrigation components built into the shelves. Similarly, and in tune with vertical farming’s themes of sustainability and efficiency, these shelves integrate with macro-hydroponics systems and are easily reorganized and moved. Finally, certain brands of shelving units are motorized and can shift different parts of the garden canopy throughout the day to ensure maximized usage of available light.
Robotics for the Garden
Commercial agriculture businesses have begun implementing robotics to handle some of the more tedious and laborious facets of cultivation, like plant pruning. However, there is an increasing upsurge in robotics designs for the home-based, hobbyist gardener. To illustrate, the company FarmBot has devised a robot that handles most gardening chores for small, raised bed gardens. The design team at FarmBot put together a robot that is mounted onto a frame which is compatible with square or rectangular garden beds. The hardware of the FarmBot is integrated with data analytics software which can program the robot to accomplish most garden tasks, including tilling, weeding, planting, watering, and spraying. While this robot gardening technology is still far from the mainstream and retails for a hefty $4,000, it presents an interesting tech tool for those gardeners interested in experimenting with the cutting-edge of home cultivation.
Gardening technology has grown exponentially in its breadth and sophistication. However, it’s also evident that no technology presents a cure-all for all horticultural processes and operations. That being said, a majority of new advancements in equipment and software are more applicable in commercial operations, with a potential trickle-down into home-based tech such as the FarmBot. Looking forward, it will be interesting to see how technological innovations will influence gardening practices in the future.