In January 2013 the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society launched the Sustainable Year Round Agriculture Initiative (SYRA). The SYRA Cluster Initiative was conceived in partnership with MaineAsia, a consulting group in Portland, Maine, to look for ways to increase year-round production by demonstrating high-potential technologies and production techniques to Maine’s major agriculture sectors, including vegetable production, ornamental horticulture, protein production, storage, aquaculture and aquaponics.
Sustainable year round agriculture (SYRA) means growing plants, raising animals, or producing food twelve months a year in a way that respects economic and environmental realities. The choice of products and markets drive decisions about structures, heat, lights and low tech versus high tech production methods.
An innovative approach to sustainable year round agriculture is to build greenhouses and other agricultural structures that incorporate solar photovoltaic panels as part of the building structure itself. This building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) approach helps lower the cost of new construction and solar when compared to the cost of building a greenhouse or structure and mounting solar on top of it.
The result of such an integration is that the producer gets a more desirable rigid frame structure and a cheaper renewable source of energy that can be used to supplement light during low light months to increase production yields and net revenue to the producer. This allows the production of food and energy from the same structure.
Objectives during the “program design and operational planning” phase were to:
- assess the current situation and requirements of key sectors in Maine’s year-round agriculture industry,
- identify feasible business cases with profitable returns on investment,
- select promising technologies to demonstrate,
- develop a demonstration plan involving partnering organizations at several sites, and
- design financial and technology solutions for each potential demonstration site.
The following areas were evaluated during the feasibility phase of the project.
- Type of Covered Structure: When does it make sense to pursue covered agriculture? What type of coverage should be pursued? What are the expected returns for different approaches?
- Heating Strategies: Whether to heat, when to heat, and how to heat? How to save on heating?
- Supplemental Lighting and/or Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Does supplemental light make economic sense? Does adding CO2 make a difference?
- Intensive Production: Does it make sense to invest in more intensive agriculture technologies? What systems are suitable for different growers?
- Photovoltaic (PV) Integration: When does a PV integrated (solar electricity producing) structure make sense? How much PV should be used for what time of year and what crop use?
- Multi-Use PV Structures: When does an agricultural building made out of PV materials make the most sense?
- Composite Structures: Can composites be used as part of greenhouse or multi-use structures? In what uses can the concrete-filled composite arch technology be best used?
- Market Mechanisms: What are the dynamics that are driving the shift to localized production and how must scale and pricing align with this shift?
The report on this part of the project Year Round Agriculture Final Feasibility Report 3-4-14 explains in more detail the objectives of the project and results achieved.
MESAS, again in partnership with MaineAsia, has submitted an application to MTI for the Demonstration Phase of the project. Once funded, the project seeks to demonstrate a variety of technology applications and will be reported here.
If you are interested in donating to MESAS to continue work like our Year Round Agriculture Project please click on the link below.