5 Indoor Farming Questions with Paul Brentlinger of CropKing

Paul Brentlinger grew up around CropKing, a greenhouse service company founded by his parents Dan and Marilyn in the early 1980s.  He grew his first hydroponic greenhouse crop before he was ten. Known for their personal service, CropKing now services nearly 700 commercial hydroponic growers throughout the country.  Ahead of his presentation at Indoor Ag-Con in May, we asked Paul five questions about indoor farming.


1. CropKing is known for its longstanding relationships with family farms. How have your family farm customers’ needs changed over the years?

I don’t know if the needs have changed…if anything the needs have become amplified. A constant focus for CropKing is providing a complete option for a new grower to enter the hydroponic controlled environment ag market. A big component of that complete option is the ongoing technical support, understanding the systems, the environment, and how those things will work together in a greenhouse. CropKing has always offered it’s customers this training and technical support and in the past 5 to 7 years you are starting to see a few other companies in the space start to offer similar options, I think it was Albert Einstein who said “the only source for knowledge is experience”. At CropKing we have been conducting ongoing trials and testing in an effort to benefit our customers in our own greenhouses for over 30 years.

2. We see a number of new farmers entering the hydroponics growing space. How do you recommend that they learn about the industry?

Great questions, of course we offer our monthly Grower Training Workshops usually at our facility here in Ohio. We realize as much as anybody that a two day course is not enough time to completely prepare someone to become a qualified new, commercial, hydroponic food producer, but it does give a prospective hydroponic farmer a good overview of owning a hydroponic greenhouse. There are Universities across the country that are focusing on controlled environment agriculture and some that offer hydroponic training courses. We are currently working to to develop and ideally this summer will start accepting interns for our 1-2 week long internship program taking interested participants much deeper into the day to day activities that are required to run a successful greenhouse operation. This will help to flatten out the learning curve that all new growers experience.

3. How long does a typical greenhouse build take? At what stage do you suggest that potential farmers contact you?

There is no such thing as a typical greenhouse build! Every build will have its challenges and unique issues to deal with. We do suggest that when conditions are optimum it generally requires about 6 weeks to 2 months to build a CropKing 2 bay (44′ x 128′ gutter connected greenhouse) on a prepared site. Prepared site would be defined as a graded pad with utilities available. So many things play into this answer like the weather and how many people are in your crew. CropKing starts talking to many growers years before they are ready to jump into this space, and that is what we want. This is a very long process to get everything in place especially for the family farms were this means taking out a mortgage on their home or against their retirement, we want people to spend the time researching and studying their local markets to ensure they have an outlet for the volume of produce they are about to grow. We want them to be completely comfortable with the process before putting down a deposit on their future.

4. Your parents started CropKing. How do you expect the indoor growing industry to change by the time your children are old enough to join the business?

I think hydroponics and CEA will become even more commonplace than it is today. As consumers continue to demand access to healthy, local, sustainable, fresh produce controlled environment agriculture and specifically hydroponics will continue to flourish.

5. What’s the coolest crop that anyone’s ever grown with your NFT system?

This is certainly a matter of opinion and we’ve seen everything from cannabis and peppers to carrots and corn being grown in NFT channels, but if I have to pick I think it’s carrots…when the root tip hits the bottom of the channel it fingers out and looks like a mutant hand when you harvest it. You have to open the channel and harvest from the bottom because you can’t pull it back through the hole in the top cover. (That’s right, CropKing’s channel has a removable top cover which also makes it easy to clean).

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