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June 19, 2009 - Greenhouse Evaluation in Beltsville, MD
It never hurts to have an extra set of eyes to take a look at your greenhouses. That was the spirit of an invitation extended to researchers Dr. Jim Locke and Dr. Jonathan Frantz when, in early May, they were invited to evaluate the research greenhouses at the Beltsville, MD USDA-ARS location. Jim and Jonathan met with many of the greenhouse users, management crew, and administrative support during their 2-day visit. They also toured most of the greenhouse space, focusing mainly on Range 2. They were tasked with identifying anything energy use, space utilization, pairing of similar crops or subject areas, among other issues that could assist the Beltsville Area greenhouse users to streamline management and costs of operating that facility. Many issues that were identified were not new; installation or upgrades of energy curtain systems, computer control systems, and crop-specific climate control are issues where improvements can often be made in commercial and research facilities alike. An issue unique to research facilities is the continuing-education needs of the staff; research facility managers must integrate themselves with a variety of crops, control systems, and users. Beltsville users, management, and administrative support were unanimous in their desire for the new greenhouse manager to receive plenty of opportunities for continuing education. These could be on-line courses, workshops, and off-location travel, as well as bringing in experts from around the area and country to train not only the greenhouse manager but the end users as well. This should raise the level of all of the research done at this facility. At the conclusion of their visit, Jim and Jonathan submitted a written report to Beltsville Area administration with observations and recommendations. While the report was primarily an echo of the greenhouse user's observations, getting an "outside" opinion can provide the needed momentum for a greenhouse group, commercial or research oriented, to incorporate changes for efficiency improvements.