Greenhouse cultivation, with a controlled environment, lets us produce food year-round, regardless of seasonality. This may be the key to maintaining food security during these tough times.
Crises such as the coronavirus outbreak are unexpected, yet inevitable. Global attempts to stop its spread have slowed down much of the world’s economic activity, affecting both global trade and local economies. This uncertainty in the supply and prices of goods can have a drastic effect on the food security, as well as energy security of entire countries. These issues are heavily connected to agriculture in general and particularly to climate controlled cultivation, which may hold the key to alleviating crises such as these.
Coronavirus disrupts global trade
The recent outbreak of coronavirus is impacting not only health, but also economic activity. In times like these, countries close their gates and firms cut back on business to weather the storm. But society’s basic needs rely heavily on the existence of global trade. This raises issues of food and energy security and highlights the need for countries to cultivate a more self-sustaining economy, at least when it comes to basic necessities.
This current crisis, though devastating, is likely temporary. But it shows our vulnerabilities to such events, which will continue to occur. Climate change may be one example of what’s to come. But as this pandemic teaches us, unexpected events may arrive earlier.
Agriculture can alleviate the impact of economic crises like coronavirus on society
Horticulture, and more specifically climate controlled cultivation, can help nations alleviate the economic crisis brought on by global shifts, such as the coronavirus.
Agriculture boosts food security
Food security is the availability and accessibility of food to the population. These days, many countries rely on imports to provide the expected quantities and range of food to which they’re accustomed. In fact, in 2017, the UK produced only 50% of its food supply. In a world with limited trade, many countries may struggle to provide the same standard of food to their populations.
This is where horticulture comes in. Cultivating food in a controlled environment, such as greenhouses, opens the door to greater food production possibilities.
By controlling the climate, growers can cultivate crops year-round, regardless of the season. This is done by controlling the temperature, humidity, lighting, fertilization and providing protection from pests and diseases. Additionally, growers can cultivate crops that wouldn’t otherwise be possible to grow in their local climate. Tomatoes and cucumbers are major examples of this, as they’re grown year-round across the globe.
With limited imports, being able to produce food locally becomes extremely important. Investing in the greenhouse sector is one of the main avenues to ensure food supply when a country is forced to further rely on its own resources.
Agriculture and energy security
The current economic downturn and its effects on global trade affect more than food supply. Another commonly traded, extremely important commodity is energy. Whether in the form of petroleum, gas or electricity, energy is a commodity we trade, and many countries rely on this trade to meet their needs.
Just as with food security, energy security is the ability to meet one’s own energy demand, with minimum reliance on external sources.
During times like these, energy prices fluctuate. If a particular crisis hits especially hard, such as may be true with the current coronavirus outbreak, supply too may suffer. At the least, this situation leads to insecurity on behalf of both private companies and entire national economies.
Greenhouse cultivation can improve food security, which is critical during a crisis. But compared to traditional agriculture, climate controlled growing is more energy intensive, which may be an issue.
So, what are we to do? The answer, on a national level, is to find the right balance between the ability to produce food, while minimizing unnecessary energy consumption.
As for private companies and smaller greenhouse operations, the fluctuation of energy prices and supply can greatly affect their ability to remain in business.
Energy efficiency is the key to balancing energy and food security
Greenhouse growers definitely suffer from an economic crisis, as do all businesses. But as food providers, their contribution exceeds their economic value. They must continue to operate at all (or most) costs, in order to feed the population, regardless of energy prices.
During periods like these, the best way to ensure the viability of climate controlled cultivation, is for it be as energy efficient as possible.
Increasing the energy efficiency of a greenhouse is quite simple but requires a shift in mindset. Reducing energy consumption is mostly about retaining your energy as much as possible.
For example, traditional greenhouse operations control humidity levels by heating and venting. But, by ventilating, they release the heat they produced, requiring additional energy to re-heat the space. By introducing dehumidifiers, these operations can deal with humidity without ventilating and avoiding heat loss, drastically reducing energy consumption. This is one example of how modern agriculture equipment and operating protocols can increase the energy efficiency of food production.
The coronavirus outbreak, and the economic crisis that is accompanying it, highlight potential issues of global trade disruption. As of now, the effects of the current crisis are still relatively mild. But as time goes on, their severity will increase.
These issues of food and energy security tie in closely to the greenhouse sector, which supplies much of our food. The key to continued production during uncertain times is to operate as efficiently as possible. Growers around the world should prioritize this, as may soon become evident.
Though this current outbreak will eventually come to an end, these issues will persist with every future crisis. Food production is a basic necessity. It is our responsibility as an industry to ensure operation during these tough times.