Last week a Growtainer™ arrived at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Centre in Dallas, Texas. Developed by two longtime friends and experienced businessmen, a Growtainer™ is a state of the art technology based production facility housed in a modified 40′ shipping container. We discussed the possibilities of this remarkable mobile growing chamber with Glenn Behrman, one of the founders of Greentech Agro LLC, developers of the patent pending Growtainer™ containers, Growtroller™ control system and Growrack™ vertical production system.
First of all; we no longer need to explain to our readers that there is a huge demand for both local and sustainably grown fresh produce. Urban agriculture is no longer a trend and vertical farming is becoming an industry on it’s own that is gaining awareness and momentum every day and is the future of farming. Over the last years, many manufacturers of high tech horticultural supplies have implemented vertical farming into their R&D and product catalogue and also local retailers in large metropolitan areas demand fresh local produce above the standard offered and they are willing to pay a better price for it.
“Nowadays it is all about food safety, freshness and reduced food miles, people want to know where there food is coming from, and in some cases, consumers support sustainable production methods of their food”, said Glenn Behrman, who admits to some experimentation with indoor plant cultivation back in the day. For many years Behrman was a leading live plant distributor in the Northeastern United States and owned and operated plant nurseries in Thailand and Vietnam. Nowadays he still operates a successful Orchid export business from Thailand to growers worldwide.
After a visit to Hortifair in 2011 he developed an interest in technology based production and began a year of intensive research including meetings with the LED team at Philips, visits to Agriculture universities and research centres in Holland as well as visits to other indoor farming facilities. He wanted to see if this disruptive new technology could impact the growing problem of food security and satisfy the rising demand for local urban production in many parts of the world. Subsequently he came up with the idea of the Growtainer™ container; a mobile hydroponic production facility that is housed inside of a modified 40′ shipping container. “Since the entire production is housed in a completely controlled environment, you can now grow vegetables, leafy greens and many other speciality crops year round in any local climate or environment in the world.”
The most remarkable aspect of the Growtainer™ container concept is its functional simplicity. Behrman knew that many entrepreneurs want to grow locally, but kept in mind that not everybody has green fingers. “The concept is to have a unit with a plug and play principle which can constantly be improved. Inside the container all of the utilities necessary to grow short term crops are present.”
Without disclosing too much detail, Behrman said that the units are designed in such a way that they are fully customizable and stackable for Growtainer™ container farms, mobile, modular and extremely user friendly. “Our Growtroller™ control system can be remotely monitored and operated over the internet or on a smartphone and offers video and audio communication in real time.
It is capable of plug and play scheduling, monitoring and control of the climate, cultivation strategy and irrigation scheme. This almost eliminates the need for a full time grower”, said Behrman. In addition, the Growrack™ system can be used in schools, restaurants, military bases etc to provide fresh leafy greens onsite, as needed.
In the future, the Growtainer™ can be very interesting for a supermarket chain, claims Behrman. “Despite the fact that it can be cheaper to grow certain commodity crops in a natural climate with daylight and in season, a Growtainer™ container can produce year round and can produce smaller quantities of gourmet products, ethnic products and has uses for industries such as flavours and fragrances, pharmaceuticals and health and beauty. The benefits of the Growtainer™ container production are substantial including year round production, attention to food safety issues, a reduction in food miles, increased freshness and longer shelf life. A retailer can grow their own leafy greens in the parking lot and their ‘as needed harvest’ offers their customers the ultimate in farm to table freshness.”
The first two containers will be housed at the prestigious Texas A&M Research and Extension Centre in Dallas, Texas USA. The researchers will use the Growtainer™ containers, capable of unlimited simultaneous experiments, to find better ways of plant production in closed environments, with plants that need less water and less light, all aspects that are very important to solving the food security problems around the world.
According to Behrman, an ongoing commitment to research is needed to keep the concept state of the art, and he and his team have had a lot of interesting conversations with a lot of technical experts. “We are working on strategic alliances with industry leaders to insure the Growtainer™ container will always utilize the most up to date technology and remain the best in the class. The concept is a work in progress and will always require upgrading and improvement but Greentech Agro LLC is fully committed and we are proud to have taken these first steps.”