Plastic Greenhouses Provide 35% of China’s Vegetables

China is using tunnel farming technology to grow vegetables all year round. Video shows what type of tunnel farming methodology being used by China. The use of this technology at scale is also being applied in Egypt and other countries.

China has covered about 3% of its farmland (4 million hectares out of 128 million hectares of arable land) with plastic sheeting for plastic greenhouses. These greenhouse farms produce 35% of China’s vegetables. China covered about 1 million hectares of farmland in each year from 2013 to 2017.

Most of the greenhouses in China are more loosely covered with plastic sheeting over farmland. This sheeting can make the land about 10 times more productive than the same area of regular farmland.

China is planning to have over 2 million hectares of greenhouse buildings by 2025 with mechanized-automation of farming. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Monday issued a guideline to promote the country’s facility-based agricultural planting, outlining goals for infrastructure upgrades and mechanization to boost output and farmers’ income. By 2025, China will maintain over 2 million hectares of facilities, including plastic greenhouses, and achieve above 50 percent mechanization for facility-based planting, a sector of the so-called controlled-environment agriculture (CEA), or protected agriculture.

CEA provides protection and maintains optimal growing conditions throughout the development of crops, and optimizes the use of resources such as water, energy, space, capital and labor. Production takes place within an enclosed structure, such as a greenhouse or building.

Robotic greenhouse buildings can be up to 30 times more productive than the same area of regular farmland.

Vertical agriculture practices in urban centers to farming villages has ensured a steady food supply in Asia’s capital cities. In 2018, the world has 489,214 hectares of greenhouse building vegetable area, Asia takes in close to half of the world’s total. The greenhouse agriculture land area in Asia is at 224,974 hectares based on International Greenhouse Vegetable Production figures in 2017. The biggest greenhouse agriculture countries are mostly found in Asia. They are China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. China is planning to make ten times the area of greenhouse building facilities by 2025. These buildings could supply 50% of China’s agricultural needs.

These facilities will be vastly more efficient with water and massively reduce the us of pesticides.

SOURCES- Asia Fund Managers, Xinhua, Hortidaily
Written by Brian Wang,

51 thoughts on “Plastic Greenhouses Provide 35% of China’s Vegetables”

  1. Now, I remember had a story on solar film that could be put on greenhouse glass. Now, have coal plants exhaust into them for CO2 capture with plants modified for all CO2 habitats and phytomine the rare earths from particulates. Also, use nickel/iron battolysers to get hydrogen from rivers near them. Huge greenhouses can have an Arecibo shape as well.

    Plastic is good for sub-roofing. Under a home’s roof, have a water collecting subroof that makes sure any rain from hail holes moves to an inner drainpipe system that exits out a monitored outlet. Water comes out of that, you know your roof needs repair.

    On elevators. Wrap an elevator shaft cylinder with a spiral staircase. The elevator car rotates as it rises, so you can step out to the stairs in case of power loss. Door is electromagnet that releases by spring in power loss

  2. wow. how did you know about such a Gem (70-th anniversary of the start of production next winter)? My b-movie fantasies become B&W joy!

  3. "…Solar panels … fragile and satisfying to destroy…"
    stay out of my head. i daydream of such things constantly.

  4. There are some excellent reasons why you don't want a lot of plastic in contact with your food supply.

    But that's a long term concern so will be likely be ignored until the metabolic disorders and reduced fertility (just what China needs) start piling up.

  5. Real life vertical farms are more like an Amazon warehouse than a high rise. We don't build ten story warehouses right? So why would we do that for lettuce?

    Warehouses are one story but the roof is like 40 feet up and everything is on tall freaking racks, with automated systems for getting stuff down from the top. That's how it goes for plants too.

  6. Methinks downtown rates are better on far smaller varieties of top notch product.

    Does it matter? Niche product, niche industry. If we're only talking about high value small batch stuff, then it won't make much difference to either our downtowns or our dinner plates.

  7. Yes, if you can pay NYC rent prices.
    Vacant does not mean public property, public property does not mean your property.

  8. You can't compare produce to grain crops – grain crops yield under 1cent / sq-ft net profit. Grain is CHEAP – some farmers burn shelled corn in special fireplaces in the winter instead of firewood!

    Using your $50/sq-ft estimate, maybe stacked 10 levels high for effective $5/sq-ft, your cost-of-capital for that alone is around $0.20-$0.30/sq-ft – cut in half if you can get two greenhouse crops a year – vs $0.01-0.015 for open fields. A head of lettuce only brings about $0.32 at the farm.

    Storing produce for year-round availability is a big part of farm-to-retail 2x-4x markup – e.g. prices often drop by 50% or more "in season". Greenhouses can be set up to produce crops near continuously with offset planting dates, but at the costly expense of temperature management.

    Field farming gets big economies of scale through bulk mechanized operations. Greenhouses might eventually balance that with automation, but for now they are labor intensive. ('Neighborhood greenhouses' might make sense, with people providing 'free' labor to get fresh produce, if you can solve the 'free-rider' and labor scheduling problems. E.g. schools could add an hour a day for kids to do the work.)

    If greenhouse farming was cheaper than using open fields and transporting and storing produce, we'd be using it far more widely in the US. China's got enough of a problem feeding their population that they're willing to accept the expense to increase production, rather than import more food.

  9. Waste heat from a nuclear generating plant would be the perfect way to heat these greenhouses, and keep them humid. You could run grow lights off peak with the output.

  10. I'd like to see a special high-rise built with this purpose in mind. It would all be temperature and humidity controlled. They could build it just outside Manhattan for the lower property cost. Maybe in NJ.
    They keep promising high-rise vertical farms but we need a proof of concept first. I'm thinking a 10 story farm like this with a big elevator. It would be near the Interstate highway, as well as a train station. It would be lit up 24/7 growing vegetables.
    Ideally, you would try various different techniques on all 10 floors, as a test bed. Grow a little of the same veg on each floor so you can get an asparagus to asparagus comparison. Maybe some veg do better with less lighting. Maybe some need higher temperature. Make it so you can control the variables and test out all sorts of things on the different crops.

    A few things we need to know are how weak we can make the floors and still have them hold up, how low we can make the ceilings, how little light we can use, how low of temperature, how low of CO2 content, etc. Then we can do a cost/benefit on raising the temperature, increasing the CO2 and other controls for the variables.

  11. Global Warming came along and ate all the acid rain.
    That's after acid rain ate the ozone hole, after the ozone hole devoured runaway malthusian population growth.
    But hey, we still have smog.

  12. which reminds me? whatever happened to all that acid rain i grew up learning about that lefties scared everyone into believing would kill us all by the millenium . 21 years later and all i see is china and their air that feels like someone sprayed hairspray on you

  13. I was thinking about that. Maybe a more robust building and LED lighting maybe more cost effective in the long run.

  14. Yes. but what is the income (or better, profit) per sq.ft of your grains in Kansas on a 100 acre parcel – and not a family farm — real agro business with real paid people (say a range: best 5 years vs worst 5 years in last 20). Methinks downtown rates are better on far smaller varieties of top notch product.

  15. Can NYC's 16.4% vacant offices be converted into vertical farming? Would the energy costs be outweighed by higher productivity and lower transportation costs (not sure if office elevators are up to the task of transporting crops). Greenhouses still rely on natural sunlight, so that is inapplicable here.

  16. But is location that important? We have transport able to move produce from farmland to a city hundreds of km away at cents per tonne/km.

  17. i like the Astrology-themed 'steps' to spreading – it adds 'legitimacy' to the whole endeavour – snerk 😉

  18. location. location. location. Many 'intensive' green roofs – are considered equivalent to vegetable farming — require minimal upgrade over traditional roll, mopped, single-ply, roofing (drainage) except structural reinforcement. Codes suggest 30 – 60 psf/ level – which is approximately like adding 1/2 another occupied floor. A 50,000 sq.ft roof – size of a medium factory in an uptown urban environment can cost $200 – $400 / sq.ft. Industrial structures are typically robust enough to likely add 2 – 3 (non-industrial, non-assembly) floors on the existing foundations. Structure that is attached to the outside but whose load path can go down to the existing foundations is the cheapest way to add height, as long as floor thicknesses above doesn't matter – cheap floors are stacked at $5 – $10 / sq.ft – warehouse rack style (no finishes) to a cheap roof. I would estimate $50 / sq.ft capital cost to add 3 floors in a thin frame greenhouse-style – say $2.5M capital within a 20 mile radius of a dense urban area. 20 years of 'restaurant-quality' produce over these three floors with utilities of $5k per month should break even over the mortgage.

  19. Those plastic greenhouses are tough plastic sheets. You could empty your rifle magazine into the roof and not even make enough damage to affect the plant growth.

    Solar panels? Now THEY are fragile and (I suspect) satisfying to destroy.

  20. Reinforcing some factory roofs is cheaper than farmland

    Yeah I'm going to have to see some numbers on that. I've dealt with roof modifications and my family owns farmland and the cost is not even remotely favouring the roof.

  21. not convinced. easily camo-ed, kevlar and its more modern tech creates high ballistic/ tear/ shear resistance; can be made low flame spread — but then are we getting away from the sheeting? easy to re-fit after last Morlok assault?
    Cali = feudal?? to be considered…

  22. Agro-Bubbles are probably the first thing to go in a post-apocalyptic uprising/ dystopic feudal california-type system – there is now a lightweight, translucent concrete, likely able to create shells of varying thicknesses — how this compares to silica-based and other light-transmitting materials for projectile protection….

  23. Yes, vertical farming usu means lights, not sunlight, so trays can be stacked or true vertical surfaces used, with lights hanging, packed into cities. Growing on farmland is NOT vertical farming.

  24. Methinks much cannabinoids will certainly prosper .. not clear on Chinese weed industry regulations…

  25. First, the sunlight avail is ~5 times Earth surface, so the area/volume is correspondingly smaller. Energy to do stuff far cheaper, as is material to cover. No land costs, altho desert is cheap, but still costs to be there, wind and stuff. Yes, far easier in Space.

  26. The article, and linked articles, keep talking about vertical farming. But all the actual photographs show single story greenhouses.

  27. Scene: multi-mile span of thin translucent bubble protecting the region's only source of food – in a World of great shortage post 2035..
    Protagonist and Antagonist: an AI farm grad student trying to save the World with a new discovery -and- a radicalized slum dweller (outside the Bubble) trying to bring justice to A People left behind by the Tech-Non-believers…
    –The Bubble–

  28. You spelled difficult wrongly.

    I know you love the space stations, but building 4 million hectares of greenhouses in space, with transparent surfaces capable of keeping 1 atmosphere of pressure in, and micrometeorites out, is not close to easy.

    Maybe it will be easy in 50 years time, but you need to state this in future tense.

    Though looking at construction techniques 50 years ago, we haven't really advanced that quickly.

  29. Reinforcing some factory roofs is cheaper than farmland — and your distribution network (and some utilities) are right there… suburban industrial zones and -soon- urban building tops became billowing plastic agro-sheeting paradise… betcha neal stephenson, william gibson, and philip k dick didn't see that coming….

  30. Really interesting tech – varying light and UV (bees need UV to pollinate) transmission, managing daytime heat gain and night-time heat loss, controlling humidity to facilitate irrigation but reduce spores, photo-selectivity in films, etc.
    Though, many food types aren't economical with current single-layer and farmland acreage costs in G7 countries….

  31. Twas just a matter of time before agriculture became covered, stacked, automated, and centrally controlled. Interesting to see what the family farm NIMBYs, open-sky purists, and mid-west heritage agro communities will have to say…
    Also, wasn't clear on what can be produced and in what climate-controlled situations – how about tree-based tropical fruit? vineyards? some orchard stock? Perhaps will also open up small-lot and personal farming if low-maintenance. I suppose the 'romantic fields of golden stalks wafting in the sunset breeze' will soon be a thing of the past — 'acres of rippling plastic tunnel sheeting in the late summer horizon' just doesn't do it…

  32. Last I checked, the plastic used in greenhouse coverings had a life expectancy of 4-6 years. That is a lot of plastic waste. How are they handling that?

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