Can Greenhouse automation deliver higher farm productivity?

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Author – Abishek G R

Crop cultivation is crucial to progression of the human civilization. The demand for food currently outweighs supply and this mismatch is rising continuously. With limited arable land and an increasing population, the percentage of land under cultivation has consistently reduced around the world, resulting in increasing stress on cultivable land. Traditional crop cultivation requires tremendous amount of physical work and resources, although it has several disadvantages such as weather dependency and susceptibility to pests and diseases. To ensure that supply of food maintains a sustainable growth, it is imperative that more efficient methods of cultivation suited for smaller cultivable areas are brought into practice.

Importance of a Greenhouse

In order to maximize yield from cultivable land, modern cultivation practices are being adopted, and greenhouse cultivation is one such highly productive cultivation methods. Greenhouse cultivation is a modern crop cultivation practice that helps in growing plants beyond their natural seasonal cycle by facilitating their protection and growth in a controlled environment. This is achieved by mimicking optimal environmental conditions required for crop cultivation.

In addition to reduced land for cultivation, the impending global warming is a major factor to be considered for greenhouse cultivation practices. Given that global warming leads to drastic changes in environmental conditions, some plant species face extinction as conditions are becoming unsuitable for their growth. This leads to a loss in floral diversity particularly for important medicinal plants.

Automating a greenhouse

After setting up greenhouses, there is a need for regular monitoring and maintenance. It is expensive to find and hire skilled labour suitable for running a greenhouse. Automation of a greenhouse is a simple solution. By setting up automated systems, manpower required both in number and skill, for site maintenance is drastically reduced. A well programmed system can also reduce the margin of error in regulating the greenhouse environment. A basic monitoring system aims at mimicking optimal conditions through a closed loop sensor-actuator network, which operates on a pre-programmed algorithm. The system would be pre-fed with the ideal readings for various parameters such as ambient temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, etc. The system then uses real-time readings in comparison with the pre-fed readings to determine the use of its actuators such as fans, sprinklers, etc. to regulate the greenhouse environment.

Products for greenhouse automation

The product range available for open-field cultivation is much larger than for greenhouses. Given the relatively new demand for greenhouse cultivation, there is no clear market leader yet for greenhouse related products. However, there are a few companies that have made significant advancements in greenhouse automation systems including Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. and Ethics Infinity Pvt. Ltd.

  • Jain Irrigation Systems headquartered at Jalgaon, Maharashtra is a micro-irrigation company that provides a one-stop solution right from manufacturing greenhouse construction to greenhouse automation systems. Their greenhouse systems are focused toward off-season growing of vegetables, floriculture, fruit crop growing, plant breeding, etc. wherein climate control is an important aspect. Jain Green Houses are built of a G.I. structure and parameters including temperature, humidity, light intensity, and soil health are artificially controlled to produce a favourable environment for plant growth. In addition to the control system they have other important systems such as CO2 generator, exhaust fan system, misting system, heating system, etc., that are used as actuators to obtain an environment optimal for plant growth.
  • Ethics Infinity based in Surat, Gujarat is focussed on providing protected-cultivation equipment. The company does not provide a one-stop solution to greenhouse automation, but offer flexibility in choosing specific components of a greenhouse. The options available at Ethics Infinity range from building materials to software applications used for automating a greenhouse. They also provide automation solutions for open-field cultivation. While the approach from Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. seems like an Apple computer, Ethics Infinity offers a more Microsoft-like approach and allows customers to build their own greenhouse from the various options they provide.
  • Greentech India based in Pune, Maharashtra unlike its competitors is focussed on providing accessories for greenhouses. While it does not provide all the equipment required for a greenhouse, Greentech India specializes in greenhouse electric heaters, humidification and fogging systems, greenhouse construction services, light par lamps, etc.

Other companies such as V R Agritech, Blue Stallion Equipments, Sashanka Agro Tech, and Param Greenhouses have also made a foray into greenhouse products, but are yet to provide a one-stop solution for automation.

Future of greenhouse cultivation

Although companies are manufacturing greenhouse automation equipment, there is something they still lack. In the age of the Internet of Things, it is not sufficient that equipment is just automated; it should have the ability to be controlled from off-site locations. There is a need to find a way to transmit greenhouse data wirelessly and similarly receive instructions while maintaining low costs and high efficiency.

Students at many engineering colleges in India such as R.V. College of Engineering, Bengaluru, V R Siddhartha Engineering College, Vijayawada, have worked on innovative research projects to fulfil this need of wireless communication. It is only a matter of time that we may be able to remotely access, monitor, and control greenhouse cultivation. The implementation of such a system would automate greenhouse cultivation in its true sense.

References:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273348692_Smart_Wireless_Sensor_Network_for_Automated_Greenhouse

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