Container farms can be found in cities and backyards, parking lots and warehouses around the world. This kind of farming has interested millions of people, who like the idea of using discarded containers for farming.

The Practicality of Container Farming

Len Calderone for | AgritechTomorrow

Container farming is the growing of plants in shipping containers instead of planting them in the ground. Both edible as well as non-edible plants can be grown in containers. Container farming lessens the problem of soil-borne diseases, and eliminates weeds. This type of gardening allows for easier monitoring of moisture, temperature, and sunlight.

Container farms can be found in cities and backyards, parking lots and warehouses around the world. This kind of farming has interested millions of people, who like the idea of using discarded containers for farming. They’re modular and easy to move, along with being compact, self-contained, cheap and available.

The key advantage of farming in a container is that you don’t need a lot of land or a greenhouse. This allows for a farmer to drop a container behind a restaurant or school cafeteria or anywhere near to where the food will be consumed. Because the container must be level for drainage, the location might need a concrete pad.

There are millions of used containers almost everywhere as container shipping is very popular and many used containers are available. When there is a problem with a container, it is usually cheaper for the logistics company to buy a new one rather than fix the old one. For a few thousand dollars a container shell can be built out for a farm.

Of course, there are some drawbacks as with any business. When using a container, the farmer must install environmental controls, such as light and heat. The structural integrity of the container is also a factor. It must be able to be outfitted with the growing materials and strong enough to be moved.

In an indoor farm, the lights are generating heat, water is evaporating, plants are transpiring, gasses are accruing and being exchanged. All the heat and humidity that are caused by these processes are amplified in a compact growing environment. This means that environmental control must be recognized and prioritized in the design of the farm.

A container farmer can set up a farm from scratch or buy a complete farming system in- a-box. Leafy Green Machine is a container that comes fully assembled to allow a farmer to easily kickstart a farm. The Leafy Green Machine is a complete hydroponic growing system in a box, helping a container farmer to perform every farm-related task from seeding to harvesting and packaging inside the container.

These containers are climate controlled, which automatically responds to air and water sensors inside the farm to guarantee a perfect growing environment for the crops. Each farm has a central brain that is programmed to automatically adjust all the components inside the farm so that it's creating the perfect environment. It even has remote monitoring and control. The modular and stackable design of the Leafy Green Machine allows a farmer to quickly scale up or start a new business from scratch. A Freight Farms’ unit runs over $85,000 and the cost to operate the farm is about $10,000 to $18,000 a year.


Photograph: Freight Farms

If you are a soil farmer, but can only farm outdoors during certain growing seasons, a container farm would allow growing 365 days, which would add additional income to the farm. A container farm allows for harvesting standing up, while forgetting about weeds and pests.

A farmer, who adds a container, can ignore unexpected frosts, droughts, or even hurricanes. With a controlled environment, there would be a stable income. There is always some part of the farm that is unproductive, but with a container, that land can be used for additional farming.

A container allows for a wider product line throughout the year adding to the farm’s revenue and keeping employees that would normally be released during the off season.

Shipping containers have been modified into offices, vacation homes, and even bars and public libraries. Their corrugated steel construction makes them strong. They are able to hold up to vertical and horizontal forces when they are stacked or interlocked. Because they are so strong, they are ideal for container farming.

The reason to build a container farm is to grow crops closer to market and fill the demand for fresher food. If demand doesn’t exist, then there goes the business. Like any business location, location, location is the key.

Just because the technology exists to grow food in a container, the would-be container farmer still has many questions to answer. If a farmer is unable to sell the food, the farmer best avoid growing it. Just because a farmer can grow it doesn’t mean that it can be sold.

In addition to matching the crop to the local market, it’s important to understand how to transport the produce from the container to customers. Therefore, a farmer must know the customers and locate the farm as close as possible to them.

Next item to consider is the power requirements. Controlled environment farms require substantial amounts of electricity and water. Not all nearby buildings have the type of electricity at the capacity a container needs to operate. A farmer needs know how much power the farm will need to support the automation equipment, growing equipment, lighting, pumps, HVAC, dehumidifiers, fans, and computers.

Pricing the product is important. Most new farmers check the prices in the local grocery store and price their product to compete. Big mistake. A container farmer should not compete with the local grocer. Today’s savvy customers will pay more for a product that was not grown in some unknown field, using unidentified chemicals, handled by foreign workers and possibly shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles. They will spend more just for the known quality and peace of mind. Just look at the recent problem that grocery market had with Romaine lettuce. Customers feel that local products are fresher, more trustworthy.

Photo by Jatuphon Buraphon from Pexels

There are many hard-working farmers, who invest their time, energy, and financial resources into questionable ideas that are not practical, taking their money and dreams away at the same time.

To be successful at container farming, a farmer needs to sell food with the growing technology taking a back seat. Trying to sell and develop more technology at the same time will lead to failure.

 
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow
Len Calderone - Contributing Author

Len Calderone - Contributing Author

Len contributes to this publication on a regular basis. Past articles can be found with an Article Search and are listed below. He also writes short stories that always have a surprise ending. He has also written a book on wedding photography on a budget. These can be found at http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Megalen

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