There are plenty of frequently asked farming questions out there since farming is a significantly more complex system than most people realize. To outside observers, the system just works. Produce is farmed, harvested, then arrives at the grocery store for purchase. However, there are few industries that are as complicated as the multinational supply chains that dominate the farming landscape.
The work we do with container farms is even less understood by the public. Why do we put hydroponic farms inside shipping containers? Are container farms more sustainable than traditional agriculture? Can you profit from operating a container farm?
In this blog, we’ll address those questions and more, providing information on the growing trends affecting agriculture today.
1. What problems does our food system face today?
The first frequently asked farming question we get is about the problems of our food system. Our modern agriculture system has evolved into a system where fewer farmers are growing than ever before. Additionally, the rise of commercial farming has pushed small farmers off their land, meaning that our food supply relies on an ever-shrinking group of multinational corporations.
In this environment, supply chains have stretched further and further. Peaches travel an average of 1,674 miles between the farm and the market. Lettuce and grapes travel even further, with distances of 2,055 miles and 2,143 miles, respectively.
When crops travel that far, nutrient quality pays the price. Most produce loses 30 percent of nutrients in just three days after harvest.
The problems facing agriculture today hurt both farmers and the customers they serve. But is there a way that farmers can cut the distance from their farm to your table?
2. Is Hydroponics More Environmentally Friendly Than Traditional Farming Methods?
Hydroponics is a relatively new arrival on the farming scene. Because of this, not many people know the intricacies of this impressive technology. A benefit of container farming is that it has less of an impact on the environment than large commercial farms.
One of the key benefits of container farming is water efficiency. In hydroponics, plants are grown in a soilless medium and receive their nutrients through a carefully controlled water supply. This means that water usage is significantly reduced compared to conventional farming, where a substantial amount of water is often wasted due to runoff and evaporation.
Additionally, hydroponic systems can recycle and reuse water efficiently, minimizing overall consumption.
In contrast, traditional agriculture can strain local water resources, leading to issues such as aquifer depletion and water pollution from agricultural runoff containing pesticides and fertilizers.
3. Why put hydroponics inside a container?
Hydroponics is great on its own, but the operation can be made even more efficient. While plants grown in soil have a surrounding ecosystem to support them, hydroponic plants are most optimal when supported with controlled environment agriculture. That involves high-powered air conditioning units, humidifiers, dehumidifiers and more.
By combining the benefits of these two technologies, farmers can grow nutritious, vibrant crops without using chemical pesticides and herbicides that have negative impacts on the environment.
4. What types of places are good for container farming?
Another frequently asked farming question we recieve is in regard to ideal locations for container farms. While there are a variety of locations that you can use for container farming, the best places have the following three attributes:
Access to Cheap Utilities
Availability of essential utilities such as electricity, water supply, and waste disposal are crucial for running a hydroponic shipping container farm. Hydroponic systems require electricity for pumps, lights and environmental controls. Because of this, stable access to electricity is imperative.
A consistent and reliable water source is also essential for the hydroponic nutrient solution. Therefore, a suitable location should have easy access to these utilities.
Evaluate the overall cost of operating a hydroponic shipping container farm at the chosen location. This includes considerations such as land or rental costs, labor costs, utility expenses, transportation costs and additional expenses related to local regulation compliance.
Balancing these costs with the potential revenue from crop sales is crucial for the economic viability of your hydroponic farm.
Accessibility/Ease to Market
The location should be easily accessible for transportation and delivery of produce and supplies. Adequate space for maneuvering and unloading containers is essential. Additionally, consider proximity to urban markets or distribution hubs to reduce transportation costs and enhance market access.
Consider not only the farm’s proximity to local markets, but also evaluate the quality of the market’s demand for your intended crop. You can be right next door to the grocery store, but that doesn’t matter if demand for your produce is low.
5. Is container farming profitable?
Perhaps the most frequently asked farming question we get is about the profitability of container farms. Container farming can be profitable, but your farm’s profitability will depend on certain factors.
A farm is a business, and just like any business, it will fail or succeed based on underlying economic factors and the competency of leadership.
Whether or not your farm is profitable depends on the size, location, product, skills, efficiency, local market and quality of your farm. Additionally, economic factors that are out of your control, like inflation and the ability to access funding sources have impacts on your farm’s profitability.
Tips for Achieving Profitability
To run a successful farm, you must focus on identifying a unique market where your customers will pay a premium for higher-quality fresh produce. Here’s an example that demonstrates that point:
Lettuce is a crop that works well in hydroponic systems, growing significantly quicker than traditionally grown lettuce. It’s grown in abundance in Arizona, but in Alaska, the sale price is significantly higher because it’s harder to provide that market with fresh lettuce. It’s difficult to find affordable fruits and vegetables in Alaska because the state must import them from outside. This increases the transportation costs for shippers, further increasing the price that consumers pay at the grocery store.
This situation presents an opportunity for an enterprising container farmer, who can set up a container farm and grow lettuce to sell to local Alaska grocers and restaurants. Container farms enable you to set up operations where consumers are, not where fertile soil is.
Selling lettuce at a premium is only one example of how locating a farm in a unique market can help in achieving profitability. With an expanding global marketplace, opportunities are emerging around the world for farmers of all stripes, from traditional growers to container farmers and greenhouse operators to benefit.
Interested in starting a farm? Visit our website, or call us for more information on getting started with a Pure Greens Container Farm.