Innovate Your Insulation With These 7 Advanced Solutions for Crop Production

Just as humans thrive in a comfortable temperature, crops also need the right amount of warmth to produce a quality harvest. Since temperature and humidity are the top environmental factors affecting yields, growers and agricultural professionals can innovate their insulation systems to develop their farms.

Here are six ways they can do so.


How Insulation Affects Crop Production

Extreme weather conditions like heavy rains and excessive heat often result in crop losses. That's why an efficient heating system is crucial in improving harvest.

For growers looking to maximize the profits from their produce, one way to boost its quality is installing insulation materials that directly impact plant development, root growth, flowering time and overall yield.

Insulation can help with the following:

  • Regulate temperature: Optimum temperature is critical for plant growth. The right warmth helps create a stable microclimate for several plant processes, such as photosynthesis, seed germination and root growth.
  • Provide protection: Insulated areas also safeguard the crops from frost damage during winter or heat stress during periods of drought. As a result, plants thrive in greenhouses and maximize their productivity.
  • Manage moisture and evaporation: Insulation influences water balance and photosynthesis. An environment with higher humidity improves growth by keeping the stomata or the openings on the plants' epidermis open to maintain photosynthesis and limit the evaporation of water in their leaves. A 10% boost in air humidity would increase leaf length, width and aerial dry weight for lettuce by 10%, 2% and 28%, respectively.

Insulation allows you to control your growing space, making it ideal for growth.


What Are Advanced Solutions for Crop Insulation

Farmers and agriculture professionals have also started to embrace technology, employing several modern solutions to optimize their yields. Here are six of them.


1. Hoophouses

Hoophouses are passive greenhouse structures built temporarily to multiply the production of cold-tolerant vegetables while protecting them from external sources that can affect their growth.

Unlike a traditional greenhouse furnished with a sizable heating system to insulate the growing space, hoophouses are sustainable since they're usually unheated, maximizing natural light to support year-round production. Areas are covered with polyethylene film, providing the plants the warmth they need to grow.

One of its significant advantages is shortening the harvest period. You can expect to pick healthy, ripe tomatoes up to a month sooner in hoophouses than outside these structures. They're the best for all-year-round yields.


2. Agrotextiles

Agriculture textile fabrics have been used for thousands of years. However, they've been innovated to cater to today's discerning agricultural professionals, expand their application and benefits and make them current. Some reports cite that drastic climatic temperatures lead to approximately 10% to 40% losses in crop production. Agrotextiles can help minimize these reductions in yields in many ways.

For example, their shading can withstand solar radiation and control the volume of heat entering the growing areas. A more advanced feature is their ultraviolet protection factor, which is present in some fiber chemical structures.

Examples of natural fabrics with these characteristics are silk, cotton and wool. Meanwhile, synthetic fibers like polyester, polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene work best in resisting the harsh cold and hot climatic conditions that adversely affect plant growth.


3. Aerogels

Agriculture professionals also explore the use of aerogels to boost crop production. They're synthetic, porous, ultralight materials derived from gels. The liquid component is replaced with gas to create solid gels with extremely low thermal conductivity, making them useful in agriculture.

Aerogels neutralize three heat transfer processes — convection, conduction and radiation. Because they provide resistance to heat transfer, they can be excellent alternatives for maintaining the indoor temperature of greenhouses and promote crop growth in multiple ways.

They're also applauded for their ability to carry active ingredients to control agricultural pests. Due to their unique composition and 50% nonsolid volume, they're used as a physical barrier to protect crops. Coating these aerogels with entomopathogenic bacteria and viruses turns them into natural repellents, thwarting bugs that harm the plants while keeping the soil healthy. They boost the effectiveness of insecticides and increase their penetrations so farmers can protect their crops while simultaneously regulating temperature within a growing space.


4. Thermal Imaging

Another advanced application is the use of cameras with infrared sensors to monitor crop growth and measure plant temperatures. This allows farmers to detect areas of stress, damage and problems that lead to yield loss. They can then use the data to determine the best time to fertilize, irrigate or control pests.

Farmers leverage them by optimizing water use. Freshwater is an important resource, and the agriculture industry consumes 70% of the raw supply for crop production. The planet's consistent warming and increased global population are raising the demand for freshwater, slowly depleting the reserves.

Thermal imaging can measure the water stress of crops like potatoes to determine whether they need watering. This technology can help preserve raw materials and only use water when necessary.


5. Phase Change Materials (PCMs)

These composites store and release latent heat energy when they transition to another form, such as from solid to liquid or vice versa. A common example is paraffin wax, which melts during the day to absorb heat and solidifies at night to release it.

PCMs have been used as an alternative to heating greenhouses since the 1980s, but their application remains limited in this sector compared to industries like construction. Only a few reviews of their application in greenhouses are available. However, since several businesses aim to neutralize their carbon footprint to mitigate climate change, experts are now delving into leveraging PCMs in the greenhouse sector.

They can store thermal energy at specific temperatures. Integrating them into crop covers allows farmers to cushion their plants against heat stress and frost damage. They also lower the demand for greenhouse heating systems, making them a sustainable choice for regulating temperatures in indoor growing areas.

Their long-term use can save farmers thousands from investments in their crops. Paraffin-based PCM materials used in buildings reduce the need for cooling by 15% during July and August. Furthermore, they can last at least 14 years, providing lasting thermal comfort for building occupants. Farmers can use them in the same way to protect their crops.


6. Bio-Based Insulation Materials

These materials have hygrothermal insulation properties construction professionals use to clad structures to make them energy efficient. They can store, absorb and release heat and vapor to maintain airflow movement within an enclosed space. Right now, they're widely used in green buildings. Their application in greenhouses is also not well-explored.

Bio-based options are as effective as conventional insulation materials. One study found the thermal conductivity of polyester foam, wood wool and corn pith-alginate is almost similar. However, polyester foam absorbs and desorbs less water vapor, making the other two bio-based components more effective at optimizing greenhouse insulation performance. Growers can consider upgrading their greenhouses with bio-based materials to create a more stable microclimate in which crops thrive.


Produce More Yield by Boosting Your Insulation

Temperature and humidity are two environmental factors affecting the plants' growth inside a greenhouse. The environment must meet insulation requirements, as water loss and dryness caused by unstable temperatures can rot the plants.

Growers can try these six solutions to boost their insulation methods and optimize their yields every time.


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