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Greenhouse Facilities Master Plan

A facilities master plan is a picture of how your business looks now and how you hope it will look in the future. Development of a master plan should be the starting point before any greenhouses are built. A good plan will help to locate buildings where they enhance retail sales, improve labor efficiency and reduce energy needs.

Frequently, expansion involves very little planning. Additional structures are added where they are easiest to build without regard to how materials will flow or how the operation, if it continues to expand, will look in five or ten years. Planning should be part of your expansion process. Develop a master facilities plan to provide a framework for orderly construction and renovation.

Review your business plan

The facilities master plan must be based on a sound business plan. What are the short and long-range goals of your business and how will expansion help you achieve these?

Any renovation or expansion should be set by the ability of your business to carry the cost. Your business plan and master facilities plan should complement each other by enhancing efficiencies and reducing costs.

Facilities requirements

Based on the goals and objectives of your business, you should establish a list of facilities requirements and a timetable for achievement. The list could include:

  • The amount of greenhouse expansion.
  • The amount of mechanization or automation you desire.
  • Most efficient shipping methods.
  • Type of support facilities.
  • What environmental concerns should be considered.

Evaluate the alternatives for each of the above. How will these impact the cost of construction and operation? For example, the more you automate, the lower the labor costs, but the higher the construction costs.

Site evaluation

Start the master plan with a topographic surveyed map of existing facilities. This survey should show:

  • Land elevations in one or two foot intervals.
  • Road access, utilities and required setback distances.
  • Soil types, ponds, streams, wetlands and the flow of runoff.
  • Property lines, neighboring structures and anything else that can affect your expansion.

Existing structures should be evaluated based on functional requirements and cost. Existing buildings that are not very functional or obsolete may hinder development of an efficient operation.

Plan your development

In developing a master plan, it is best to plan on paper, looking at several alternative layouts. The master plan starts with a survey of your existing facilities, evaluates the benefits and constraints of the site and establishes how renovations should be made and where new facilities should be built.

Because materials handling is the largest cost in most greenhouse operations, you should make it a major consideration in the placement of new structures and their relation to the headhouse. The type of plant moving system that is selected is important in relation to the plants you grow, distance moved and elevation differences. Conveyors, carts and pallet trays have advantages and disadvantages that must be evaluated.

The size of individual growing units (greenhouses or number of bays of a gutter-connected house) should be based on the quantity of plants grown and the environment they require. Individual hoop-houses may work well for an operation growing specialty plants that require different temperatures, but larger, gutter-connected greenhouses are generally more efficient for wholesale operations.

Is a headhouse in your plan?

If your operation has more than a couple of greenhouses, a headhouse should be a key part of the plan. Besides providing an area for potting, transplanting and shipping, the headhouse is an excellent place for the support facilities needed to run an efficient business. It can also serve to tie the greenhouses together by providing access without having to go outside, an advantage during inclement weather.

Other functional parts you should consider include:

  • Storage. Both inside and outside for materials, supplies, equipment and vehicles.
  • Heating plant. A central heating plant may be desirable in larger facilities to reduce operating and maintenance costs. The fuel storage should be nearby.
  • Access. Driveways to all buildings should be provided for emergency use. Location and slope are important.
  • Maintenance shop. An area or building for storage of tools and equipment repair should be provided.
  • Drainage. A drainage system that will handle the large amounts of water that will come off your greenhouses and driveways is needed. You may have to construct a sedimentation pond.

A master plan can also help in obtaining zoning and wetlands permits. It should be submitted it at the first expansion phase. This then becomes part of the approval process. If commission membership and sentiment change, the expansion phases are already on file. This has been important for several growers in Connecticut who were challenged as expansion progressed.

John W. Bartok, Jr., Extension Professor Emeritus and Agricultural Engineer, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Connecticut , Storrs CT