Rodney Swisshelm
Photo courtesy of Rough Brothers

Deciding to build new greenhouse structures is a difficult decision for any grower to make. Below, Rough Brothers director of project management Rodney Swisshelm offers his insight into the process.

Greenhouse Management: When considering building new greenhouse structures, what are some factors growers should consider?

Rodney Swisshelm: First and foremost, growers should consider the market needs for the product they’re looking to grow. Aside from the structure, there are a number of construction issues that need to be factored in: storage for materials; spoils removal; temporary site power; lift equipment access; drain collection and evacuation; and low voltage wiring required for environmental controls. Building a new greenhouse goes beyond the design and structural engineering of the product — there needs to be room to construct it.

GM: How can a grower properly determine if the cost of a new structure will yield a positive return on investment?

RS: The size and type of the greenhouse is a crucial part of ROI. Many times, large greenhouses are built without the sales to consume the product and sustain the business. Obviously, this hurts ROI and cash flow. If a grower can determine the target output of the crop, our designers and systems engineers can help determine the best fit for the budget.

GM: How long can the planning and building stages for new structures take, and how should growers account for that?

RS: Obviously, this varies depending on the structure and size, but it also includes the time it takes the grower to attain the necessary permits. Most average-size commercial greenhouses can be off the ground and running with two to four months of planning and a two-to-six month build timeframe. But Mother Nature waits for no man, and seasonal weather can impact projects a great deal.

GM: What are some of the common misconceptions growers have about building new structures?

RS: Customers often think it’s easy to act as the construction coordinator for their projects, but there are many steps prior to building where it helps to have someone familiar with the process to manage it for you. Our project managers have years of experience working alongside general contractors and are comfortable with the construction process. We’re able to oversee and coordinate material deliveries and schedule the sequence of the site work and include foundations, in addition to electrical and mechanical trades. This helps to eliminate construction holdups and allows the grower to focus on other facets of their business.

GM: What advantages does working with Rough Brothers offer growers?

RS: When a company has been around for over 85 years, you have a lot of collective knowledge. Many of our employees have been with us for five, 10, 15 and even 20-plus years. Across departments, we’re able to guide our customers past many of the pitfalls associated with the build process. Since our manufacturing facility is at the same location as our offices, any questions and/or issues that arise can be dealt with almost immediately. But most importantly, we stand behind our product from fabrication through the end of construction. — Interviewed by Chris Manning