This year, probably in view of the hard winter, the early months continued to be quiet. But leading glasshouse suppliers say some orders are now coming in. Many of the commercial projects, however, are fairly small - half an acre or an acre of standard glass.
"Growers seem more optimistic than a year ago," says Bridge Greenhouses Spalding branch manager Neil Watson. "If a company is cash rich and doesn't need to rely on the banks, it will go ahead with major capital investment. Anyone needing capital is still finding it difficult to get the banks to say yes."
Bridge Greenhouses is particularly busy in the installation of biomass boilers. The company also reports demand for new controls and thermal screens. "Growers are trying to save as much energy as they can," confirms Watson.
CambridgeHOK business development manager Noel O'Leary believes the industry has turned the corner. "It's improving, absolutely," he insists. "But we knew at the beginning of the year that we were not going to break records. Things are ticking over nicely."
The firm is involved in work including education, growers and domestic projects. At the RHS Tatton Flower Show last week, it launched the Urban Victorian domestic greenhouse.
The sector seemingly the most willing and able to spend over the past 12 months has been education and research. Watson says: "We have been doing quite a few research-type houses. That's always new glass and fairly high-tech - lots of small compartments run by computers."
The strength of sterling against the euro has helped those growers exporting to the continent. At the same time, the general public is spending more time at home. Combine these with other factors, such as the public's awareness of healthy eating, food miles and environmental issues, and there does seem to be room for optimism. Let's hope that optimism can be converted into capital investment.
It is likely to be relevant to you, so have you filled in the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) survey yet? If not, there is still time to do so.
It is important because its eventual outcome could be a particular set of requirements for plant protection products used in protected crop systems. Your input is important to ensure any future policy outputs are based on real evidence and accurate data.
The EFSA survey of growers is being undertaken by researchers at Campden BRI in association with the NFU and is open to growers in the UK, Netherlands, Hungary and Poland.
Ultimately, the information will help assess the risk of a plant protection product, applied within a protected crop system, moving into and impacting on the wider environment.
Questions in the survey look at what structures are used, pesticide applications, crop types, growing methods and irrigation techniques. It covers most protected structures - net and plastic shelters, low and walk-in tunnels, shade houses, lowand high-tech greenhouses and closed buildings.
It also covers all protected crops. The information will provide researchers with a better understanding of what protected cropping systems are in use across Europe and the data gathered will represent an accurate update of current practices.
- You can complete the survey on the NFU website at www.nfuonline.com
Operational reliability is important in large commercial glasshouses. The weather poses a key threat but you cannot be on the nursery, watching the crop, 24/7.
Most growers will monitor the situation via the internet. This puts greater emphasis on the reliability of sensors and it is usual to have duplicates.
Most nurseries, however, will only have one weather station. HortiMax, supplier of the MultiMa climate and irrigation computer, believes it is sensible to have two.
A second allows readings to be verified and errors to be speedily detected. Over large areas, a second station will alert the grower to differences in weather conditions across the site.