If you go into the industrial area of any major city these days, you are sure to see a few shipping container farms. They are placed anywhere from backyards to parking lots to roofs. But how exactly do they work? Let’s go over the pros and cons of shipping container farms, so you can learn a bit more about these innovative structures.
You may have seen shipping container farms online, on TV, or in newspapers. Seeing these success stories has created an interest from people who are dreaming of transforming these discarded shipping containers into something useful. How does this work when it comes to the business of growing and selling food?
The top reasons for using shipping containers as greenhouses are:
- They are modular and easy to ship.
- They are compact and self-contained.
- Used shipping containers are cheap and available.
- Prices will continue to be driven down as the competition increases.
Easy to Transport
The primary benefit of easy shipping for these farms is that it allows manufacturers to set up shop where it is least expensive and then be able to ship them directly to a farm site loaded and ready to grow. This has great potential for the farmer who needs to be able to set up his or her farm quickly and start growing without having to worry about building a greenhouse or finding warehouse space.
Shipping container farm manufacturers can easily get their products to the farmers quickly and efficiently. They can also be sent anywhere in the world and set up in areas that were previously difficult to farm in. Hopefully over time this will help fight hunger around the world.
Leaves a Compact Footprint
Another benefit of a shipping container farm is that you need minimal space to start one and no need for a dedicated building. This means that a modern farmer or company can easily drop one of these container farms behind their restaurant or even in a parking lot. Using a container farm opens up many doors for producing food closer to where it is going to be consumed. If you want to do this, you do need to keep in mind that the container needs to sit on a flat surface to function and can sometimes require a cement pad.
You can find a used shipping container just about anywhere, as they have been used for decades to ship goods overseas. Millions of them have been made and are sitting empty now, just waiting for industrious recyclers to snatch them up. Some types of containers are easier to retire than to fix, such as refrigeration containers. This does represent a loss to the company, so they will be eager to sell any retired containers they can. This makes many types of used containers inexpensive.
With the cost of getting a used shipping container being so low, there are more and more companies getting into the business of boxed farms. The more companies jump on board with this, the more the price will decrease over time as it becomes easier to acquire pre-made farms. Having a lower price point means there will be more aspiring farmers launching new businesses, and this will in turn help the supply of locally grown food in many locations.
The core problem with used shipping containers is that they were not designed to grow food. This can put growers at a disadvantage. The biggest drawbacks of container farms are:
- Difficulty in controlling the growth environment.
- Structural integrity.
- Problems with light, heat, and layout.
- People and workflow issues.
Difficulty Controlling the Environment
If it can be managed well, there are many benefits to a controlled environment. While the benefits of the controlled environment can be good, the small area can also be a curse if the farmer finds the environment impossible to control.
At any given time in an indoor farm, the lights are generating heat and water is evaporating. This means that plants are transpiring and gasses are accumulating and being exchanged. That’s great, because it means the plants are growing! However, with all the heat and humidity, the results are amplified in a denser growing environment. To make sure your controlled environment is a blessing and not a curse, you must understand environmental control, and it must be prioritized in the design of the container farm.
Integrity Issues in Repurposed Shipping Containers
There is an often-overlooked danger of a repurposed shipping container in their limited structural lifespan. These containers have been around the world a few times and have been subjected to salt water and high winds before being discarded. This means they were well worn before they were even made into the farming business.
This will limit the life of the farm. In some cases, the quality of the container is so low that some famers have had their container condemned by the city. If you do go this route of starting a shipping container farm, be sure to carefully inspect the structure and make sure it can sustain your farm.
This goes hand in hand with the controlled environment. Light and heat have an antagonist relationship, so the need for supplying the quality and balance needed for plants to grow to their full potential is a very important one in a shipping container farm.
Plants like light but are sensitive to heat, and this is a delicate balance in a compact metal container. Because of the tight space in shipping container farms, the farmers face an interesting problem. They need high-intensity lighting to grow the plants but often do not have enough space to install enough cooling units to deal with the heat created by the lights.
The environment of farms is not just designed for the plants, it also needs to be designed for people. The big issue with shipping container farms is that they are not designed for people to work in, and this can pose a real issue for the famers.
There are two reasons why you want to keep your farm labor-friendly. The first is that labor is money, and second is that there is nothing worse than working in a hot, confined space for dozens of hours each week. This can drive workers crazy and make them dread going to work.
How efficiently your workplace is set up for workers is important and sometimes overlooked. Do not neglect this as you are shopping for a shipping container farm. The most practical way to feel out the workflow of your farm is to visit several set-up shipping container farms before you buy one yourself. Talk to other farmers and see what works best for them.
Regardless of the good or the bad of the farming, people are interested in the quality of their food. If you do your due diligence and set up a successful shipping container farm, you are bound to have some success and help play a significant role in solving the supply problem of locally grown food. Not all container farms are created equally, so be sure before you make your purchase.