Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Greenhouse fuel economy during tough times

Heating greenhouses this next winter will remind many growers of fuel costs during the 1970s during the Arab Oil Embargo. I have found reports from the Department of Energy that forcast the price of natural gas to be at $12.31 per dekatherm. If we have a cold winter, there may be gas shortages. During September, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut down 32 million barrels of crude oil and 165 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas production in the Federal Gulf of Mexico. Recovery is ongoing and expected to continue at least through October.

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) most recent projection of heating degree-days, the Lower-48 States are forecast to be 2.4 percent colder this winter compared with last winter, but 1.7 percent warmer than the 30-year average (1971 to 2000). However, regional heating degree-day projections vary widely; for example, the West North Central region is projected to be almost 5 percent warmer than last winter.

What is the greenhouse owner/manager to do? Many buy gas on the open market as a coopertive to lock in prices. Others negotiate directly with their gas provider. Rregardless of what fuel you use and your fuel prices, we still need to make cropping decisions. Do we grow Easter lilies or just grow spring bedding plnats. Do we put in quick turn crop of cut flowers for Easter or do we start our own plugs and cuttings. These are just a few decisions a grower must make.

To ease some of these decisions and relate them to fuel, Jonathan FrantzUSDA-ARS@utoledo.edu of the USDA-ARS in Toldeo, Ohio has put together a modeling system that you can access help you make your decisions. Below is a discription of the product from the USDA-ARS website.

Virtual Grower is a decision support tool for greenhouse growers. Users can build a greenhouse with a variety of materials for roofs and sidewalls, design the greenhouse style, schedule temperature set points throughout the year, and predict heating costs for over 230 sites within the US. Different heating and scheduling scenarios can be predicted with few inputs.

You can download the current version of Virtual Grower at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/services/software/download.htm?softwareid=108

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