China Accelerates High-Tech Greenhouse Expansion Following COVID-19

Published Jun 15, 2021
Following the disruptions to the food supply chain caused by the effects of COVID-19, China has accelerated the expansion of high-tech greenhouse facilities in the country. These facilities are being set up on the outskirts of most major cities in China and are expected to alleviate food supply shortages in the future.

Dozens of facilities have emerged on the outskirts of major cities to ensure fresh produce for Chinese consumers. These facilities utilize high-tech systems to manage irrigation, temperature, and lighting systems to produce vegetables. Despite China being the world’s largest vegetable producer, with greenhouses already in use, the disruption to food supplies caused by COVID-19-related lockdowns during 2020 has accelerated the development of high-tech glass greenhouse facilities.

China’s municipal governments aim to stock up reserves of critical staples and develop distribution and logistical facilities, to avoid disruptions in the future. The development of greenhouses has been spurred on by a growing, affluent Chinese middle class, able to pay more for higher-quality food grown with fewer pesticides. According to Richland Sources, the area being used for glass greenhouses rose by 28% in 2020, significantly more than the 5.9% increase seen in 2019.

Getting rid of intermediaries

Chinese vegetable production has been centered in certain areas and required complex cold chain logistics networks for the vegetables to reach wholesale markets in major cities. This hub-centric system’s vulnerability was exposed when COVID-19 hit in 2020, resulting in the disruption in the flow of goods to consumers, food shortage, and crop spoilage. According to the Economic Intelligence Unit, a global business intelligence firm, the effects of COVID-19 have led to the global fresh food industry reducing the number of intermediaries in its supply chain network. Most greenhouses are now constructed within city limits reducing the distance to buyers. They are usually collaborative ventures between Chinese property companies and greenhouse firms from the Netherlands, a major player in agriculture technology. Produce grown in greenhouses is sold directly to e-commerce platforms and supermarkets instead of going through intermediaries and wholesale markets that are a standard feature of China’s vegetable supply chain.

Further growth expected

China aims to continue its greenhouse expansion in key cities, with Beijing looking to more than double its “high-efficiency facility agriculture land” to over 300 hectares by 2025. That level of growth is expected to solidify China’s claim as the top vegetable producer globally. Currently, China accounts for more than 75% of the global output of cucumbers, green beans, spinach, and asparagus. However, as China continues its push into modern farming, it may face obstacles related to farming personnel as most farmers are aging and unfamiliar with high-tech production methods. The country may then need to educate the next generation of farmers to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary for modern farming practices.


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