Factors to Consider Before Expanding Your Greenhouse Operation

Thinking of expanding your greenhouse’s footprint? Yeah, I bet you are. More greenhouse means more growing space, thus more product, which should mean more revenue. But do the numbers always add up so easily? No, is the quick answer.

There are a lot of factors to consider before you get all giddy about a larger greenhouse operation. In our final feature with Matt Fox, owner of Fox Greenhouses, he shares how he determined it was necessarily to add more greenhouses to grow his business. But not before careful calculating.

 

Quickly, after talking with Matt, there were several questions that formed in my mind one should ask themselves before they added to their greenhouse operation. Please, take a moment to read these. Let’s be as prepared as possible.

1. Can the market support you?
Even if all your existing customers have committed to buying more and all your relatives are getting healthy gifts for every holiday between here and there, you have to double and triple check your numbers. If you’re not good with numbers (ahem…like me) find someone who is, hire them. You’ll need them.

2. Can your greenhouse support the expansion?
Are there any elements of your current greenhouse structure that may need upgraded to support a larger operation? Will your heater be as effective? Can your water reservoir hold more — water?

 

3. How large can you go?
How will a greater footprint impact your space — ie. old trees, power lines? In Matt’s situation, he will need to remove a tree that now stands too close to the expanded greenhouse. The fear of a tree falling and damaging the greenhouses is to big of a risk.

 

4. What new technology can you implement, and will it play nice with the existing?
Like a kid on Christmas morning, Matt eagerly showed me his new toys. Not only did he install a larger, more efficient water wall and heater, Matt invested in a greenhouse controller called iGrow and an all-in-one dashboard for testing and conditioning the water.

There comes a point where I believe it’s beneficial to invest in equipment that makes day-to-day tasks easier. Sure, Matt could test and condition his water weekly, or even monthly, but when you’re scaling up, those details might be best left to a machine.

5. How will your work schedule change?
Be aware that with more product, it will take more time to harvest, prepare and deliver. How will this affect your daily routine? Manage your time wisely, test run your delivery route to ensure you’re arriving when you tell your customers you will.

6. How will your insurance be affected?
Before the expansion began, Matt’s insurance agent assessed the additional assets and adjusted his insurance accordingly. It may be beneficial to have an agent knowledgeable in greenhouse growing, or plan to educate them on how severe your damages could be. Recently, the USDA’s Risk Management Agency has updated its federal organic crop insurance program for 2014. Read more here from Hortidaily.

7. Will you need to add more employees?
Up until this coming year, Matt has relied on his flexible schedule and homeschooled teens to keep his routine of growing, harvesting and delivering fluid. However, with the expansion, he’s now looking for someone to deliver his tomatoes and more hands in the greenhouse. His solution: Utilizing the flexible schedules of stay-at-home moms and the open summers of teachers. <<< That right there folks, is a golden nugget.

8. How will your relationships be impacted?
Are you married? Do you have children? What conversations or realizations do you need to make to ensure everyone’s onboard with your ambitions. Be real with yourself and your family. Strive for a healthy balance.

And lastly….
10. What happens if you fail? While everyone wants to be an optimist, farming has taught us all one important lesson: Nothing is guaranteed. What will you do if your tomatoes get a virus that wipes out your entire crop? What happens if a storm sends a 100 year old tree toppling down on your greenhouse? As we mentioned in our first post about Fox Greenhouses, let’s not get “caught with our pants down.” Anticipate where you may fail, and plan for that moment.

I feel like we just ended a game of 20 questions. That being said though, there is a big difference between analyzing the “what ifs” and being prepared. Let’s shoot for the latter. If you need help, have questions, or are interested in us covering a specific topic related to greenhouse growing — or any growing — please, let us know.
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Fox Greenhouses is located in Dallas Center, Iowa. Founder, Matt Fox has been growing pesticide-free, vine-ripened tomatoes hydroponically since 2000. Connect with them on Facebook.

If you missed the first three post in this series, read them here:

Post 1: 8 Grow Tips From a Cold Climate, Hydroponic, Greenhouse Tomato Grower

Post 2: Tapping Into Your Local Market: Ways to Build Relationships and Your Greenhouse Operation

Post 3: 5 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your Greenhouse Operation

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