As more consumers look into buying their food locally and government entities continue to lessen restrictions on cannabis — which has proven to be a major economic draw in many areas — it makes sense that more and more growers are moving into spaces like aquaponics and cannabis production.

Because many growers are adding new crops into existing spaces, retrofitting their structures for new purposes and making business decisions based on what makes the most financial sense for their type of operation, we thought it would be a good idea to survey them about their existing structures as well as any additions or upgrades they might plan on making.

Through the responses we’ve analyzed from our 9th annual Structures Report survey, we have found that growers are becoming increasingly interested in incorporating evaporative pad-and-fan cooling, computer zone controllers and shade cloths into their proposed new structures. Also, of the growers who plan to increase production space in the next 12 months, more of them are considering a major structural expansion than in previous years.

In 2016, 44% of respondents said they have less than 10,000 square feet of production space under cover. This was by far the most answered option, followed by 12.8% of growers who said they have more than 500,000 square feet of production space under cover. This year, we split the “Less than 10,000 square foot” answer option in half, revealing that 29.7% of this year’s respondents have less than 4,999 square feet of production space.
One of several new questions we added this year was “What type of structure do you grow your crops in?” 9.0% of respondents answered “Other,” and provided answers such as earth-sheltered solar greenhouse, free-standing tube construction and proprietary design greenhouse.

This year, we asked growers “What do you grow?” instead of focusing on main crops, allowing growers to select more than one crop. For the previous three years (2014 to 2016), annuals held their own as the No. 1 answer for growers, and in 2016, annuals still held a 15% margin over produce at 41%, compared to produce’s 26%. In 2016, only 11% of growers considered perennials to be their main crop, but it turns out that, this year, nearly 43% of growers are growing at least some perennials. In fact, it’s worth noting that slightly more growers report growing perennials than annuals this year.

New answer options included cannabis, bulbs, finished stock, foliage/tropicals, plugs (cuttings, seed) and propagation (liners). Fill-in answers (not graphed) included trees, edible flowers, woody ornamentals, natives, roses and aquatic plants.

While about half of growers said that they planned to add new production space (see below), we were also interested in whether or not growers are planning to upgrade existing structures. We see a similar split, with about half of growers responding that they’ll be making upgrades in the next 12 months.
While the number of respondents who said they are not planning on adding production space in the next year increased slightly from 48.2% last year, respondents who said they plan on adding more than 100,000 square feet of production space more than doubled from 4.5% to 9.3%. Last year, no respondents planned on adding 75,000-99,999 square feet of production space, but this year, 1.9% plan to do so. This suggests that while many growers don’t plan on adding production space, more of the ones who do plan on adding a significant amount.
The number of growers who plan to use polyethylene film in their new planned production area fell from 62.5% from last year to 54.5% this year, and the number of growers who plan to use glass decreased slightly from 12.5% to 10.9%. Meanwhile, the number of growers who plan to use shade cloth/screen saw a significant increase from 3.6% to 16.4%, growers who plan to use acrylic sheet doubled to 7.3% and slightly more growers plan to use fiberglass.
In 2016, 48.2% of growers said that they were not planning to spend any money on structural additions. In this year’s results, we see that that number has dropped about 15%, with only about a third of the respondents stating that they were not adding on or upgrading this year. It’s a positive sign that more growers are planning to invest back into their structures in the next 12 months.
While the numbers of growers planning to use natural ventilation and exhaust fans in new production areas has remained relatively stable over the past year, the number of growers looking at evaporative pad-and-fan cooling options has increased more than 10%, from 18.5% to 29.6%, and the number of those considering mist systems has increased more than 7% from 9.3%.
Respondents considering installing unit heaters have decreased about 12% since 2016, while respondents considering implementing hot water systems have increased from about 5%. About 10% more respondents are considering leaving the space unheated. No respondents reported interest in infrared heating, down 3.7% from last year.
In the realm of environmental controls, growers who say they would like to add computer zone controllers have more than tripled from 7.4% in 2016. Step controller interest has nearly doubled from 5.6% last year. Meanwhile, projected thermostat and timer usage has decreased from 55.6% to 38.0%, and integrated computer controls are down 3%.