At the time I was beginning my farming journey, I only had one heifer and as I needed money more immediately for upkeep as I had already quit my full time job. At the time there was one agro company that was promoting heavily its greenhouse farming as a business idea.
I, along with several other farmers and would be new farmers bought into this idea.
The dream they sold was that you could buy one kit inclusive of the greenhouse tunnel, drip lines, water tank and sees and agro inputs for a whole season. They also threw in some training for a whole day so as the very green fellows, could have an idea of best agronomy practices. The training was also to guarantee you that once you follow all that was taught, you were guaranteed an income. Said income would enable you to not only earn some profit but also completely of the greenhouse tunnel kit within a year.
I was very excited about this venture as not only would it get me financial independence but I could already see myself as an employer. Little did I know that it was a pipe dream and not everything that glitters is gold. I, for one, didn't do any feasibility study to see how viable this business would be. And the crop of choice was tomato.
The problem here was that everyone was being sold onto tomato farming. Once the crop was ready the market was flooded with tomatoes. Though not all at once. I remember the first few harvest of crop were bountiful and the market price was good. People were even willing to come and collect produce direct from the farm. Things went south one time when in the local news round up, it was announced that the commodity with the highest price in my nearest town was tomatoes. I couldn't believe my luck. And just the day after I ha d harvested my tomatoes and was to sell them the next day to a local guy. I decide to take them myself to the market the next day.
I woke up early to go to the market, telling myself that the early bird catches the worm. On arriving at the market, I proudly displaying my tomatoes and awaited my produce to make me some decent money. However I noted after a little banter with the buyers who had come to market that when I quoted the price I heard on the radio, the feedback I was getting was that I was selling at a very high price. On further investigation I was told that farmers, brokers and middlemen from all over the country had Also heard the good tomato prices. Most tomatoes were ferried overnight in lorries to my town. Long story short the market was flooded and I was even lucky to get half of the announced price.
Another lesson I learned on this tomato farming, is that local market needs can also be a problem. With the greenhouse farming, the tomatoes are actually fairly big, and free of blemishes, as compared to the locally grown field variety. So when trying to sell my produce at the local market, most of the buyers didn't want to pay a premium for my produce. Among the reasons given were, my tomatoes being too perfect and smooth. The other being the size, that most market patrons prefer to buy many small tomatoes to see the value.
Greenhouse farming of tomatoes is also quite time consuming. This would be fine if the produce paid for itself. The sheer amount of work involved in pruning, trellising, picking and spraying was a lot, especially for a one man army. Because of the various issues raised above, it took me more that the one year to recoup my initial capital from the greenhouse farming venture. This also crushed my dream of it being a full time job and employing someone to assist in the running of this venture.
Another issue that I noted with greenhouse farming is the wear and tear of the covering material. When the kit is new the agro company actually gave a warranty of 3 or so years for parts. I was lucky that my kit started showing the vagaries of the weather from the fourth or so year. There were cases of the covering material being torn and blown off in a matter of months. The cost of repair also seemed steep for the repair of this covering material which is the main wearing part. From my research it seemed to come to about a third to a half of the initial cost of the initial setup.
Would I do it again?
Probably not. I blame myself for buying into the hype before doing due diligence. The cost of greenhouse farming is too steep, in my opinion, to be viable especially in the tropics. Especially for medium value crops like tomatoes. It seemed to work for a while in the flower industry in my country, though of late even that seems to be untenable. Though the reasons for the failing flower industry may be more than the greenhouse issues highlighted here.
Would there be a better alternative?
I believe so. In my recent years of farming, I have discovered conservation agriculture. I have seen a demo of how well it can work when done properly, especially in a semi arid area.
Drip irrigation farming is what I should have bought into in retrospect. I believe that plus some kind of mulch would be a close second in terms of efficacy to conservation agriculture.
Thanks for sticking around and reading my views on greenhouse tunnels.