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Archi-ponics: Environmental Control Technology

Computer technology is advancing quickly. How long until growers can control their entire operation remotely? Computer technology is advancing quickly. How long until growers can control their entire operation remotely?

Hydroponic systems have really evolved over the last several decades. Mediums like rockwool and coco coir have replaced sand and gravel; food grade polyethylene and polypropylene plastics have replaced PVC (polyvinyl chloride); and poor quality fertilizers have been replaced by pharmaceutical grade, easy-to-use nutrients and organic teas.

But, let’s consider all the recent technological advancement in our computers and phones. The desktop computer is now a second choice, behind laptops that offer more versatility and the same capacity. Our mobile phones allow us to take our office anywhere. Tablets and pads are replacing spiral notebooks. The “cloud” allows us to access our information from any device, anywhere in the world where wifi is available.

So, I’m wondering why, with advanced hydroponic systems and the evolution of computer systems and programming, are growers are still relying on a very narrow field of environmental controllers?

So, I’m wondering why, with advanced hydroponic systems and the evolution of computer systems and programming, are growers are still relying on a very narrow field of environmental controllers? Many of these computers that regulate greenhouse temperature, humidity, and other conditions are still not digital, have limited capabilities and cost too much.

The primary reason for computer technology advancement is competition. Great companies like Apple and Google push each other to develop smaller instruments with more capabilities at even more affordable prices. This drive for success has prompted these companies to employ the brightest people from all over the world to envision and create the future. On the other hand, with a limited number of companies developing environmental control technology for commercial greenhouse controls, the competition for market share is not nearly as fierce. In the past, the market for environmental control was fairly limited, relying on a few greenhouse and grow room growers. But now, many more people are producing food at home and commercial crop production is moving into greenhouses and other forms of crop protection.

Imagine if Google, Apple, and Microsoft were all developing environmental controllers and applications for those controllers in competition for their market share. Imagine, instead of the controller telling the grower what the options of control were and only allowing you to set the parameters, the controller was more user friendly. You could tell it what to control, you could operate it from your mobile phone. You could use the same controller for your grow room as well as your commercial greenhouses, not only to control the environment, but everything from fertility to humidity and everything in between. All your data could be stored in a program that allowed you to establish various reports and graphs with the press of a few keys from your computer or hand held device. And all information would be automatically saved in the “cloud” for later use. Imagine if the cost of the equipment was a fraction of the cost it is today because the market competition drove the price down.

This is where the hydroponic industry needs to go. It’s true that crop production has evolved far beyond the simple seed-in-soil method of growing crops, and it’s true that there are increasingly sophisticated controls available for growers. Yet for the most part, growers still live in the past in the way we control our systems and our environments.

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Colin & Karen Archipley are hydroponics experts.
Last modified on Monday, 16 July 2012 19:03

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