If you’re a person who enjoys farming, gardening, or growing your own plans, then you may want to consider entering the market of container farming. The agricultural industry is breaking new grounds by advancing new technology to allow food production to meet the growing food demands.
Controlled environment agriculture has been increasingly popular for farmers and many of them are trying their hands on new farming methods. Farmers are not only growing their crops in soil but also shipping containers. Think of this method like a farm in a box.[toc]
In this article, we’ll cover how the new innovation of farming in a shipping container or cropbox can yield amazing benefits for farmers and what you should know before getting into this occupation.
Everything You Need to Know About Shipping Container Farms
What is Container Farming?
Container farming is exactly as the name suggests. It’s a method of growing produce in a container rather than on the ground.
Growing a plant inside of a shipping container is made possible by utilizing hydroponics, which is the growth of plants without soil. Hydroponics replaces soil using nutrient-rich water instead. Unlike a greenhouse, growing in shipping containers means you can set up systems to safeguard your crops.
Related: Check out our posts on shipping container aquaponics and container barns!
Container farmers will seal their containers against insects, pests, and harsh weather conditions. This means a farmer can move their farm around the world.
For example, Square Roots is an indoor farming company and manufacturer that has used innovation to change the agriculture industry by connecting people who live in cities access to real local food. They use their freight farms leafy green technologies and shipping container to make fresh produce.
Their plants and food are then supplied in New York to restaurants, grocery stores, and direct-to-consumer businesses. This is just one of many examples of successful container farm companies that utilize technology and innovative horticultural techniques to establish themselves as an industry titan.
What are the Benefits of Shipping Container Farms?
Easy to Find and Buy
Shipping containers have been used for all sorts of environments such as shipping goods overseas. The good news is that they are relatively inexpensive and very easy to find.
Convenient to Transport
Like the name would indicate, shipping containers are easy to transport. Farmers may easily set up a farm where the demand for quality food is high or anywhere that is cheap to station in. This eliminates the process of finding a platform space or building an entire greenhouse.
Fulfills the Need for Quality Food Supply In Specific Locations
Since you don’t need a building or dozens of acres of land, container farms have less carbon footprint. A container farm can be conveniently located closer to anywhere food will be consumed such as a lot behind a restaurant.
However, container farms require a level structure to run operations because the drain lines need to flow in one direction. This means you can offer fresh food to places where it might be difficult to grow while reducing your carbon footprint.
This significantly reduces the distance from where fresh food is consumed and where it is grown. This makes it appealing for both consumers, sellers, and farmers.
What are the Drawbacks of Shipping Container Farms?
Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks and anyone looking to start this business should do their market research ahead of time, so they build the right systems.
Uncomfortable to Work In
Shipping containers aren’t designed for labor work either. You’ll need to find specific container farms that allow for safe working conditions. Container farms are naturally small but you find find a type that is spacious enough to work in for long hours.
Before making a purchase, you should be able to answer yes to these important questions:
- Are multiple people able to work in this container?
- Are you able to easily see your crops?
- Would you be able to work in this container for a few hours per day?
It’s best to scour the market by visiting many different container farms to see what you like and feel comfortable working in. Get feedback from other farmers about their container.
Difficult to Manage the Growing Environment
Containers weren’t designed to grow food, thus a used container may suffer from environmental control problems. All farmers in any indoor environment whether container farming or greenhouse need to ensure the following:
- Every plant transpires
- The light creates heat
- Water evaporates
- Gas fluctuates and accumulates
If these aren’t taken care of, then the pests and lack of growth will only be further amplified. Every container farm must ensure that their produce inside of the container has adequate airflow, de-humidification, CO2, and temperature controls.
May Suffer From Structural Integrity Problems
Due to the nature of used containers, having been worn down from traveling overseas for thousands of miles. They’ve likely had to withstand harsh conditions like high winds, rough corrosive saltwater, and forklift operation.
By the time it reaches you, your farm may not have a long shelf life because of the structural damage.
What is the Future of Container Farming?
Container farms are increasingly becoming popular around the world and are one of the most viable business models. Some speculate that container farming may rival growing plants in the traditional outdoor setting or greenhouses.
Loblaw Companies Ltd is a Canadian grocery store chain that plans to invest $150 million more every year to help container farmers implement new growing techniques and technologies to grow vegetables and fruits that Canada typically imports.
What is Controlled Environment Agriculture?
Controlled Environment Agriculture or CEA is a technology approach to optimizing horticultural practices. This can be done through many facility types such as DIY greenhouses or modern container farms.
The goal is to build systems that control variables that affect the health of the crops and the growth rate of the product including:
- Nutrient pH
- Nutrient concentration
- Carbon dioxide
How Do I Start a Container Shipping Business
Launching a successful farm business isn’t easy. It requires a ton of preparation and care over your product. Here are the steps for starting your new farming business:
1. Analyze the local food market and hydroponics
This agriculture model has only recently been picking up steam, so it’s best to do your research about the CEA industry. If you live outside of the United States, this practice is even more uncommon. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are there any farmers markets in your area and are they a popular destination?
- Do the grocery stores in my town sell hydroponically grown produce? If so, how much do they cost in relation to conventionally grown plants?
- Are restaurants buying any farm-to-table produce?
Once you understand the problems and trends in the area, you’ll be able to grow local produce to capitalize on this opportunity and make a name for yourself.
2. Create a strategic plan
Once you’ve done your research, you’ll have a better idea about who to serve, what type of produce to grow, and which technology is needed to incorporate. First, you’ll identify your target market which is usually either a grocery store, restaurant, or direct-to-consumer.
Next, you can begin planning your distribution channels, operational costs, and types of produce you want to grow.
3. Acquire financing
Having a solid plan will enable you to secure financing from a bank, investor, or the United States government. There are two types of farming financing options: an operating business loan or an equipment loan.
4. Find a farm site and container
All successful container farms have intentionally zoned out a specific area that makes shipping produce easy, while also enough space to grow enough crop. Luckily, with containers, it can be as easy as finding an empty lot, deserted area, or build a backyard space for it.
5. Launch your farm
Now you’re ready to launch your farming operations. You’ll need to order some greenery and farming your produce. It’s also important to train yourself on CEA grow techniques along with developing a robust customer base.
Once you land a few clients, customers will begin to recognize your farm name and quality of products.
DIY Shipping Container Farms
Some of you may want to save on costs or have the desire to build your own container. If you have the time and building skills, then a DIY shipping container farm may be right for you.
You need the following supplies to complete the setup and structure to ensure effective plant growth :
- A type of irrigation: valves, nutrient bins, piping, pump, PVC tubing, and reservoir
- Growing ecosystem: racks, trays, boxes, shelves, and growing chambers
- Light source: wiring, circuitry, solar panels, and LED lights
- Atmospheric structure and system: insulation, heater, air conditioner, one or multiple shipping containers, ventilation
- Monitoring and climate control system: alkalinity, temperature, humidity, alarms, and light sensors
To begin your new CEA production, you’ll need at least a 20 feet refrigerated container to use as a shell. The insulation will heat up the inside keeping it warm in the winter or the shell safeguards crops from environments not conducive to growing.
The equipment listed above is needed to build a water system and effectively grow a healthy crop. During the initial production phase, the goal is to provide sufficient nutrients to fertilize your crops and give them a healthy dose of water and light.
No soil will be needed since you’ll use hydroponic methods rather than planting crops on the ground.
How much do shipping containers cost?
No matter what business model you’re performing, shipping containers are incredibly valuable. The price of shipping containers may vary drastically depending on factors such as price, condition, history, size, age, cost of delivery, permitting fees, and cost of delivery.
However, you’ll find that shipping containers will range from $1,400 to $5000. However, comparatively, it may cost anywhere between $600 to $10,000 or more to start a small farm.
Are vertical farms profitable?
Vertical farming is a method of growing crops on vertically inclined surfaces rather than a horizontal surface such as in a greenhouse or field. Many farmers prefer vertical farming and indoor farming as one of their staple farming methods because it allows them to better manage their crops and grow more of them faster.
This method will reduce the exposure to pests, require less water use, eliminate the negative effects of weather, allow food production to meet food demands.
Vertical farms can be profitable but will require more labor costs to hire farmers and will run into issues with pollinating leafy greens since the environment doesn’t have insects.
What crop is the most profitable?
Since container farming means you’ll have limited space, you’ll need to prioritize crops that provide the biggest output. It’s important to consider how quick the growing cycle is for each crop. For example, some plants may be grown every week of the year since they are quick to reach maturity.
Here is a shortlist of some of the most profitable crops to grow in your growtainer:
- Goji Berries
- Bonsai Plants
- Pastured Poultry
What vegetables grow well in containers?
Growing leafy greens or other plants in a container is an excellent way to prevent the spread of diseases and eliminates many weed problems for farmers. Some of the best vegetables to grow in a container are tomatoes, potatoes, peas, peppers, radishes, arugula, and eggplant.
Is there money in hydroponic farming?
At this point, there may be people who have doubts, even though tons of hydroponic farms exist. There is much statistical evidence that points to the profitability of growing produce indoors and without the use of soil.
Hydroponic farms tend to be profitable on average about 60% of the time. Furthermore, they net an average of $41.16 for every square foot.
The world is craving higher quality food. Container farms can help reshape our food system by helping farmers grow food that is in need of local produce. However, the business must thrive by reducing capital expenses and operating costs to maintain profitability long term.
In addition, containers should be designed for proper working conditions to maintain operations and install a ground-up approach for being an effective growing environment.