Could Energy Neutral Greenhouse Work In The Valley?

July 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The "farm of the future" featured on Action News at Eleven Tuesday night has generated a buzz in the agriculture community. The enclosed facility can produce tomatoes year-round in Ventura County. But the Valley isn't the ideal place to establish a similar greenhouse farm.

The Houweling facility in Camarillo is energy-neutral. The massive tomato greenhouse cost $50-million dollars to build.

A five-acre solar farm isn't cheap. Neither is the water filtration system which both captures rainwater and cleans irrigation water for re-use. But CEO Casey Houweling believes the facility will pay for itself in a decade.

Fresno State Ag Professor Ganesan Srinivasan is amazed by the enclosed bio-farm. He's interested in taking students on a tour. Srinivasan said, "It's very unique. They have taken it to the next step of sustainable agriculture by using renewable energy and saving water."

Srinivasan said a similar operation would be very costly to build and maintain in the Valley because of our extreme temperature swings.

Power would be needed to light and warm the greenhouse when it's cold and foggy. Srinivasan explained, "Here the heating costs, especially in the winter, will be too high and the lighting cost and cooling in the summer would be pretty high too so economically it doesn't sound that appealing."

Ventura County's mild weather makes it easier to maintain temperature and humidity levels. Casey Houweling said, "You can do it in almost any area with a greenhouse of this kind of nature but the greater your temperature extremes, the greater the challenge. We picked the coast here because of its moderate climate."

Despite the high cost, State Ag Secretary A.G. Kawamura says this facility serves as a model of sustainable agriculture. Kawamura said, "A lot of people will watch what's going on with the greenhouse down there in Camarillo and as they move to see that they're successful you might find plenty of other people trying to maneuver with the right kind of crop with that kind of system."

The Houweling farm isn't feeling the effects of the drought. The solar panels ensure a stable power source.

Srinivasan believes a large firm with long-term vision may someday step forward and build a self-sustaining greenhouse in the valley. Srinivasan said, "I can see down the road some big corporation willing to put in the investment and having the commitment. It's not going to be a small operation for any small farmer."

Fertile land and Mediterranean weather make the Valley ideal for growing crops so the thought of Valley farmers leaving the fields is unlikely.

But increased pressures on resources, whether it be water or energy, are forcing farmers to look at and learn from green facilities like this one on the coast.

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