Growing Microgreens Indoors: The Advanced Guide (2020 Edition)

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Mark-Horler
- Zjef Van Acker, Former Chief Engagement Officer, Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) 

What Is Container Farming? 

Simply Put: Container Farming is the practice of growing produce, typically leafy greens, in a shipping container. In the late 2010's and early 2020's container farming has grown extensively, driven by the evolution of vertical farming and LED Grow Lights.

In this article, you will learn: 

  1. What are the Pros of Container Farming? 
  2. What are the Cons of Container Farming? 
  3. What does the Future of Container Farming Look Like? 

What Are the Pros of Container Farming? 

Shipping Container Farms & Modular Grow Rooms | Grow Pod Solutions
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Benefits of Container Farms Include: 

  • Easy to Move and Ship: Container Farms can be easily transferred to different locations. This allows for extremely efficient distribution and provides an advantage over traditional agriculture which is bounded by a fixed production location.
  • Compact and Contained: Container farms provide a compact source of production. They are optimized for production per unit area. They are also contained. Crop failures or diseases that would affect an entire field in a traditional farming operation, will only affect a limited space in a container farm. Harvesting within a container farm is efficient due to the small area.
  • Available Inputs: The components used to build a container farm are available. Shipping containers, electrical components, and grow media can be sourced easily and repurposed to build a container farm. Unlike a vertical farm which may have high specialized construction materials, a container farm can often utilize many common parts on the market.
  • Prices Decrease: Container farms typically have the lowest upfront CAPEX of any type of indoor farming (according to this CS Monitor article, a Freight Farm container farm costs $85,000 USD upfront and maintenance costs are between $8,000 and $16,500), investors have a significant opportunity to get a return on their investment closer to their initial installation than with other forms of indoor farming. Also, as more container farming companies enter the marketplace, the price of individual units will likely decrease in the 2020's.
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What Are the Cons of Container Farming? 

  • Environmental Control Difficult: Because container farms are so compact, issues related to environmental control: heat, humidity, etc are compounded. In a large field outside, heat, water, and airflow are more evenly distributed on average. In a container farm, airflow, humidity, and temperature can all be challenges to maintain consistently.
  • Structural Integrity: Many container farms utilize used shipping containers. The problem with used shipping containers is that they are used, and as a result, often have air leaks and other structural problems. This can create more problems with environmental control in the short term, and raises questions about the durability of your container farm in the medium to long term.
  • Light and Heat Antagonistic: When indoor farming, light quality is very important for crop health. The problem with providing ample lighting is that heat generation is higher. In a container farm, space is tight. Pack in a lot of grow lights, and heat will be a challenge.
  • People and Workflow Issues: The same small size that allows workers to quickly harvest and tend to plants that are closely packed together, also prevents multiple workers from harvesting at the same time because of that can prevent economies of scale. Finally, working in a shipping container all day can be a difficult working environment compared to outdoors, and as workers become less satisfied, they become less productive, take more time, and time is money! 
  • High OpEX: As stated above, although continuous OpEX is far lower than the initial upfront investment, OpEX in a container farm can still be significant and can make profitable operation challenging.
  • Low Comparative Output: Because of the compact size of a container farm, and the availability of many of the components of a container farm that can be repurposed from other industries, container farms are generally regarded as a low CAPEX, high OPEX indoor farms. Although this may be attractive in the short term, in the long term this model is not attractive and at the best, still unproven and requiring innovation.

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What is the Future of Container Farming? 

In 2020, Container Farms are generally regarded as inferior to warehouse vertical farms or greenhouse farms. As a general rule, Container Farms will have a lower CAPEX than a vertical farm or commercial greenhouse, but in the long run, will be less profitable.

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As more container farms enter the market and as technology advances, the initial CAPEX required for container farms may become so low that they become more competitive with higher CAPEX methods of indoor farming.

Conclusion? 

We hope you learned more about container farming in this post. If you are interested to learn even more, on a consistent basis, sign up for our free newsletter below! 

“If urbanvine.co had existed when I got into Vertical Farming back in 2012, I'd have saved 3 years in that quest to learn it!”

Mark-Horler
- Zjef Van Acker, Former Chief Engagement Officer, Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) 

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Hank
Hank van Apeldoorn, Urban Vine Co Subscriber

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