Availability and capability of labor have become dominating factors affecting agriculture's productivity and sustainability. Agricultural mechanization can substitute for human and animal physical power and improve operational uniformity. Automation complements mechanization by implementing the capabilities of automatic perception, reasoning, communication, and task planning. Fixed automation is traditionally cost-effective for mass production of standard items. In addition, flexible automation responds to make-to-order batch processing. The appropriateness of each automation type depends on the situation at hand. Because of their vast memory and high calculation speed, computers are highly effective for rapid information processing. Incorporating state-of-the-art hardware and software, computers can generate status reports, provide decision support, gather sensor signals, and/or instruct machines to perform physical work. It is no surprise, therefore, that computerization is essential to the evolutionary process, from mechanization through fixed automation to flexible automation. Fundamentals of agricultural mechanization, automation, and computerization applied to greenhouse production are discussed. Recent research activities conducted at Rutgers Univ. are presented for illustrative purposes.
A phase change material (PCM) energy storage unit operating in a greenhouse from 29 Oct. through 21 Dec. 1992 cooled it on the average 1.7C in the day and warmed it 2.2C at night due to both sensible and latent heat absorbed, released, and circulated. Tagetes patula `Mighty Marietta' and `Early Queen Sophia' marigolds and Viola × Wittrockiana `Yellow Blotch' and `Blue Blotch' pansies were grown in a PCM and a control (no PCM) greenhouse. Temperatures went below 0C 10 days in the control greenhouse and 4 days in the PCM greenhouse. The lowest temperature of -7.8C killed the marigolds in the control greenhouse. Neither marigolds nor pansies were killed in the PCM greenhouse, which attained a low temperature of -3.3C. On 4 Dec., plants were destructively harvested. Morphologically the marigolds were taller, and had more leaf area and dry matter when grown in the PCM greenhouse as compared to the control, but pansies were taller, and had more leaf area and dry matter when grown in the control greenhouse, as compared to the PCM greenhouse.