Submitted to: Trade Journal Publication
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: September 15, 2009
Publication Date: October 1, 2009
Citation: Runkle, E., Frantz, J. 2009. Technically Speaking: Why Should You Use Virtual Grower?. Greenhouse Product News. 9(10):50.
Virtual Grower is a free, easy-to-use software program that every grower who heats their greenhouse should install on their computer. The program enables growers to simulate their own greenhouse and predict how changes or investments could impact the growing environment, heating costs, and crop responses. Version 2.5 was released in July 2009 and has enough improvements that it should replace previous versions. Once the program is downloaded and installed, you build a virtual greenhouse that has the same characteristics as your existing greenhouse, or one that you hope to build. The program uses that information to estimate your heating and supplemental lighting costs per month and per square foot per month. The new version has a supplemental lighting section to help predict electrical lighting costs, an improved energy curtain section, and real-time heating predictions for 2 days based on weather forecasts. Some of the uses of Virtual Grower include predictions on the effect of changing temperature set points on heating costs and crop times, energy savings with the installation of, or improvements to, an energy curtain, and the impact of supplemental lighting on crop scheduling. There are certainly some limitations to the program, including the assumption of “normal” temperatures during the winter, but there are also some important assumptions with the plant growth section, including the photoperiod and starting plant size. Nevertheless, the program provides unbiased, research-based information that can be used by growers to help make decisions. Virtual Grower will continue to be developed, including the addition of more crops in the plant growth section and predictions on water use and disease. And we welcome your comments and suggestions on other ways of improving this tool so that it can continue to give you useful information. This software can help growers identify energy savings and management strategies to improve production efficiency in greenhouses around the country.