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Why should you attend the International Congress for Controlled Environment Agriculture 2017? – Part 2

As I posted earlier this month, I have been fielding a lot of questions from industry peers asking why Hort Americas continues to support, sponsor and have a booth at the 2nd International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture (ICCEA). This event is scheduled for May 17-19, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. I thought the best way to respond was to write a two-part blog. In my first post I focused on my business reasons for participating in ICCEA. In this second post I will focus on my philosophical reasons for my involvement with ICCEA.

Education is the foundation for innovation

I firmly believe in education. I believe that kids who have access to the best educational opportunities have a huge head-start.

I believe those young adults who are fortunate enough to attend and disciplined enough to commit themselves to a college education give themselves the opportunity to develop skills and have experiences that provide them with advantages over their peers. Business people committed to constantly challenging and questioning themselves on what they think they know through continuing education have the opportunity to be the leaders and innovators who reshape their perspective industries.

This is why I am committed to ICCEA. ICCEA is about education. ICCEA is about bringing together the best and brightest minds so that they can share their research and experiences. ICCEA is committed to expanding the knowledge base of its attendees. Each of these attendees will return to their businesses knowing they are armed with the best base of horticultural science information currently available.

For those of you who know me, my commitment to education as the base for a solidpersonal and professional foundation should not surprise you. For those of you who don’t know me, I ask that you visit the Hort Americas website, read the back issues of Urban Ag News and their blogs. You will quickly realize that my companies and I are not only committed to continuously educating and learning, but also to supporting those committed to horticultural and agricultural extension services.

Networking is an opportunity to explore

Whenever you meet successful business people, they usually have a diverse network of professional associates. This should not be a surprise as part of their success is their vast network of knowledgeable colleagues and friends. These networks allow them to easily navigate the business challenges and obstacles they encounter daily.

Because “good” networking leads to opportunities that create success for both parties these relationships are often long lasting and they (at least in my case) lead to some amazing friendships. This is another reason I firmly believe that networking is not selling.

Networking is listening and learning. Networking provides assistance when opportunities present themselves. In some cases these opportunities lead to sales, but effective networking does not have to lead to a business transaction.

How networking has impacted me

I credit education and networking with putting me where I am today professionally (and personally.) There are many people responsible for making me who I am today. In addition to my family and friends, many of the people I credit with helping me develop as a horticultural professional I met at educational events throughout my career. Three of these industry colleagues (and friends) will be at ICCEA this year:

1. Dr. Don Wilkerson, Texas A&M University horticulture professor and extension specialist emeritus

I met Don when I was a young “professional” more concerned with having a great time over anything else. Unfortunately I cannot share the stories of my younger years, and hopefully Don won’t either. But, that simply shows you how good of an educator Don is.

Unknowingly Don was able to communicate commercial horticultural issues in a way that made it easy for me to understand. More importantly Don inspired me to ask questions that I sought the answers for.

2. Dr. Toyoki Kozai, professor emeritus and chief director, Japan Plant Factory Association Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University

Dr. Kozai graciously opened himself up to an American who had never been to Japan. I had a long list of questions for him and I was eager to learn anything and everything I could about vertical farming. Whether the questions were from me or anyone else I have seen Dr. Kozai interact with, he always takes the time to answer every question, no matter how elementary, with respect and care.

3. Dr. Chieri Kubota, professor, University of Arizona, The School of Plant Sciences, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

A former student of Dr. Kozai, Chieri likely does not know this, but I totally enjoy visiting with her. Not because she is always willing to share new facts and figures based on her research, but because she is so excited about her work that she inspires me to continue to be passionate about our industry.

After reading the two blogs I have prepared on ICCEA it should be obvious why Hort Americas will be attending this industry event in Panama City, Panama, on May 17-19, 2017. During this conference we will be there learning from leading horticulture researchers, networking and creating opportunities with government representatives, existing agricultural/horticultural businesses, entrepreneurs and manufacturers of controlled environment agriculture products.

Look forward to seeing you in Panama.

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Why the International Congress for Controlled Environment Agriculture 2017? – Part 1

Recently I have been fielding a lot of questions from industry peers asking why Hort Americas continues to support, sponsor and even have a booth at the 2nd International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture (ICCEA). This event is scheduled for May 17-19, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. I thought the best way to respond was to write a two-part blog posting. In my first post I will focus on my “business” reasons and in the second post I will focus on my philosophical reasons.

Business opportunities in developing markets

As we all know, “the only constant is change.” This is no different in the world of commercial agriculture and production horticulture regardless of geographical locations. Panama and other Latin American countries have a very strong and proud history in agriculture and horticulture, which due to changing weather patterns are being forced to adapt. As one would expect, these changes will not come easy and will cause many farms, of all sizes, to suffer in the process. If these same farms want to continue operating and more importantly want to continue to be profitable, they will need to find a new way. My belief is that controlled environment agriculture (CEA) can and will be one of the tools that help these farms redefine themselves.

CEA is a technology-based approach to food production. The aim of CEA is to provide protection and maintain optimal growing conditions throughout crop development. Production takes place within an enclosed growing structure such as a greenhouse or building.

Panamanian government officials feel the same way. They have shown and continue to show a commitment to helping the country’s farmers.

The government’s support started in 2015 and 2016 when it committed and put to work approximately $100 million USD towards investments in innovative production techniques and strategies. In January 2017 the government announced a first-round monetary infusion of $243 million USD for fiscal year 2017 to be directed toward increasing food production using controlled environment/precision agriculture. These funds will be used to transition from current traditional agriculture and its challenges, including water, inputs, available arable land, to technology-based food production which includes CEA.

Panama funds CEA projects

Hort Americas has seen Panama’s government funding put to work. In the last 18 months the following projects have either been initiated or implemented.

* 10 Greenhouses of various sizes built with all the necessary equipment/technology.

* 2 Indoor farm food production facilities (one currently in development stage).

* 1 New university research-and-development facility.

* 1 Tissue culture laboratory.

* 1 CEA seedling production facility.

* 4 Private research-and-development facilities to test indoor food production (agricultural companies).

The following projects are currently in the planning stage.

* 1 Large-scale, world class research-and-development facility (a combined private/government/university initiative).

* 5 Greenhouses (more possible with new incentives recently announced).

* 1 Indoor food production facility.

Panama is one of several Latin American countries receiving this type of financial funding to upgrade the agriculture sector. Peru, Chile and other countries are following suit. In addition, there is a robust effort by CAF Development Bank of Latin American, and other multilateral organizations to increase their agriculture portfolio throughout Latin America, applying technology to produce food.

Hort Americas’ customers are active in the production of food and flowering crops using the technology that best fits their region. From our perspective, and depending on the crops, CEA can be designed and built to suit a variety of crops, production methods and management styles. This can be done as a greenhouse, vertical farm/plant factory or tissue culture facility.

ICCEA does two things to support CEA. First, it focuses on the education needed to support crop production regardless of the technology or geographic region. Second, it brings together people with varied backgrounds, including international investors, growers/farmers, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Due to ICCEA’s unique program and approach it not only attracts attendees from Latin America, it also attracts creative and innovative minds from around the world. In 2015, Hort Americas was amazed to meet and develop working relationships with many new businesses from the United States and Canada.

Unprecedented opportunities for everyone.

ICCEA creates opportunities for people and companies to build business partnerships. And that is what we look for–opportunity. When people have access to information and science that supports what they are interested in, good things happen. When people have the opportunity to listen to leaders from their industry, good things happen. When people have the opportunity to share great food and drink, good things happen. When people have the opportunity and time to professionally network, good things happen.

In 2015, Hort Americas had the pleasure of meeting and starting new business relationships with many new people and companies from the USA, Canada and the Caribbean (arguably more developed markets.) These attendees represented a wide array of thought, businesses, hydroponic crops and experience. It was awesome. Based on conversations we are currently having, we see even more opportunities to meet new and existing customers in 2017.

So, once again Hort Americas will be attending ICCEA in Panama City, Panama, on May 17-19, 2017. We will be there learning from leading researchers, networking and creating opportunities with government representatives, existing agricultural/horticultural businesses, entrepreneurs and manufacturers of CEA products.

Stay tuned for part 2 and hope to see you there.

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Water quality, treatments are focus of Cultivate’15 educational sessions

As pressure on fresh water supplies increases, more growers will look at recycling their water. Recycling water can add a whole range of challenges that growers may not have had to deal with before. Speakers at this year’s Cultivate’15 discussed some of the issues growers may face when recirculating and treating irrigation water.


By David Kuack

As drought conditions worsen along the West Coast and wildfires scorch many parts of the country, water continues to be on the minds of the public, government officials and water regulating agencies. Environmental disasters like the recent wastewater spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine into the Animas River also add to the concerns about water availability and water safety.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports in its “OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: the Consequences of Inaction the demand for water will increase globally by some 55 percent. This increase in demand will come primarily from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation and domestic use. The report said “groundwater depletion may become the greatest threat to agriculture and urban water supplies in several regions.”


Challenges of recirculating water

As more growers look to save water by collecting irrigation runoff and recirculating their water, the chance for issues with soluble salts, pH and disease pathogens can be expected to increase. Plant pathologist Ann Chase at Chase Agricultural Consulting told Cultivate’15 attendees during her presentation “Meeting the Challenges of Recirculating Water” that use of automatic watering systems has increased watering efficiency, but in some cases, these systems have also led to less monitoring of crops on a daily basis.

She said algae tend to be the biggest problem with recirculating water. She said the optimum conditions for growing greenhouse crops, including warm temperatures, high humidity and applying fertilizer in irrigation water, are the same conditions that allow algae to thrive in many areas of a greenhouse. Many algae also move with water. It’s common in greenhouses to see algae growing on concrete floors and aisles, benches, evaporative cooling pads and even on the surface of growing media.

Plant pathologist Ann Chase at Chase Agricultural Consulting said algae tend to be the biggest problem with recirculating water. The optimum conditions for growing greenhouse crops are the same conditions that allow algae to thrive. Photos courtesy of Peter Konjoian, Konjoian’s Horticulture Education Services
Plant pathologist Ann Chase at Chase Agricultural Consulting said algae tend to be the biggest problem with recirculating water. The optimum conditions for growing greenhouse crops are the same conditions that allow algae to thrive.
Photos courtesy of Peter Konjoian, Konjoian’s Horticulture Education Services
Chase said a major reason many disease fungal pathogens can thrive in greenhouse conditions is they are “good” saprophytes that don’t require plants to survive. These water-loving and water-tolerant fungi have a wide host range. They produce many spores quickly and the spores are motile making it easy for them to move through water. These spores are also long-lasting which allows them to wait until conditions are optimum for them to germinate on host plants.

Chase said growers have a lot of choices when it comes to how to recirculate and treat their water. She said before deciding on what water treatment should be used, growers should first lower the rate of fertilizer they are applying and incorporate a filtering system.

“Filtering has to be done before any type of water treatment,” she said. “Depending on how fast the water is needed and the volume of water required will help to determine the type of filtration and treatment system that should be installed.”

For more: Chase Agricultural Consulting,;


Algae-biofilm relations

During his presentation on “Water enhancement and hydroponics,” Peter Konjoian, president of Konjoian’s Horticulture Education Services, discussed the relationship between algae and other microorganisms living in water. He said if algae are present, one should assume fungi, bacteria, and viruses may be as well.

“Algae and bacteria produce biofilm,” Konjoian said. “There is symbiotic relationship between algae and biofilm. These organisms are highly evolved and highly adaptive.”

He said biofilm can provide algae with enough nutrients that algae do not need the light necessary to produce these nutrients. Because of this relationship, algae can grow in water pipes, even in pipe buried underground.

Biofilm can come into a greenhouse in a municipal water source even though the water has been treated. Schedule-40 polyvinyl chloride irrigation line: new pipe (top), “clear” water line with biofilm (middle), and fertilizer line that carries 200 parts per million nitrogen with layer of algae (bottom).
Biofilm can come into a greenhouse in a municipal water source even though the water has been treated. Schedule-40 polyvinyl chloride irrigation line: new pipe (top), “clear” water line with biofilm (middle), and fertilizer line that carries 200 parts per million nitrogen with layer of algae (bottom).


He said biofilm can come into a greenhouse in a municipal water source even though that water has been treated. While algae can establish themselves on a wide range of surfaces inside a greenhouse, it is the irrigation system that can help promote their growth. If a line is dedicated solely for fertilizer, even if that pipe is buried underground, algae can become established.

Konjoian said one of the common irrigation system design flaws made by growers is they do not provide enough filtration. He said the mesh size of the filter system needs to be able to filter out particles of at least 50 microns.

For more: Konjoian’s Horticulture Education Services,


Water treatment options

Don Merhaut, associate extension specialist for ornamental and floriculture crops at the University of California-Riverside, and Sal Mangiafico, environmental and resource management agent at Rutgers Cooperative Extension, discussed “Water treatment options for irrigation and tailwater recycling.” The researchers said there are five basic steps to recycling and treating water:


1. Collection of water runoff.

2. Removal of floating debris.

3. Removal of suspended particulate matter, including organic matter, clay, sand and silt.

4. Sanitation treatment for pathogens.

5. Control of fertilizer levels.


If irrigation runoff is going to be collected into a collection basin, the size of the greenhouse or nursery and its water demands have to be considered.

Merhaut said plant pathogens, including Phytophthora and Pythium, are usually present in runoff water and irrigation water that comes from surface water sources. The method of water treatment chosen by a grower will depend on how clean the water is, the level of sanitation a grower wants to achieve, the type of recycling system and local regulations.

Mangiafico said the method of fertilizer injection is usually one of the last things determined because of the impact water sanitation treatments can have on some nutrients. Some treatment methods may denature fertilizer chelates suspended in water or remove nutrients from the water. He said the smaller the container size that is being used to produce a crop, the more a grower needs to be concerned about micronutrients that are sensitive to poor quality water.

Merhaut and Mangiafico said the most common water treatment methods include:


1. Chlorination

2. Slow sand filtration

3. Rapid sand filtration

4. Membrane-mediated filtration

5. Heat

6. Ultraviolet light

7. Ozonation

8. Copper ionization


The two researchers advised growers, depending on which treatment method they were interested in, to first try out a small pilot system before investing in and installing a full scale treatment system for an entire greenhouse or nursery operation. Once a treatment system has been installed, it should be inspected and tested on a regular basis to ensure it is operating properly and is providing the sanitation results expected of it. Records should be kept of any type of maintenance, parts replacement, etc. that are done on the system in the event that any problems occur.


For more: Don Merhaut, University of California, Department of Botany & Plant Sciences, Riverside, Calif.;; Sal Mangiafico, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Woodstown, N.J.;


David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas;
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Indoor Harvest Corp Provides Update on CLARA Vertical Farm Project in Pasadena, Texas

Houston, Texas, June 25, 2015 — Indoor Harvest Corp (OTCQB:INQD), through its brand name Indoor Harvest™, is a design build contractor, developer, marketer and direct-seller of commercial grade aeroponic and hydroponic fixtures and supporting systems for use in urban Controlled Environment Agriculture and Building Integrated Agriculture. The Company is pleased to provide an update on the Pasadena, Texas Community Located Agricultural Research Area (“CLARA”) project.

On March 31, 2015 the Company announced the signing of a LOI with the City of Pasadena, Texas to fund the establishment and provisioning of an indoor agricultural facility (vertical farm) to be located in Pasadena, Texas. Under the LOI, the City was to provide Indoor Harvest, or a partner of their designation with City approval, with two facilities owned by the City for the sum of ten dollars ($10.00) per annum for a period not to exceed twenty (20) years as well as provide tax abatements on these properties for use in a CLARA project. In addition, the Pasadena Second Century Corp. (economic development entity for the City of Pasadena) has been asked by City officials to consider a budgetary proposal of $500,000 as seed money for the project’s economic development portion in north Pasadena.

Mr. Chad Sykes, Chief Executive Officer of Indoor Harvest, stated, “We’ve received a timeline for the project through the City. We’re currently in the final stages of drafting the MOU and expect to be in a position to begin work on the project as soon as August, based on the timeline provided by the City. All of the parties involved are working together to create an agriculture campus in Pasadena that we hope will become a model for the rest of the nation. By combining agricultural research, education and commercial operations in one campus, we’re working to build a foundation to turn North Pasadena into a leader in new, innovative agricultural trends. We’ve also begun discussions with several potential commercial partners and investors interested in locating operations at the CLARA campus. Although we don’t have any binding agreements, interest seems to be significant given the background and history of groups with whom we are discussing the project.”

The CLARA project, based on current negotiations, is expected to be divided into two phases. Phase One will focus on developing the non-profit aspects of the project and is envisioned to include the construction of a 6,000 sq. ft. vertical farm R&D facility and 6,000 sq. ft. of classroom and office space.  Phase Two is envisioned to support a commercial retail operation with greenhouses built on approximately two acres of land adjacent to the vertical farm and education centers.

The Phase One vertical farm facility is intended to serve dual roles, with Indoor Harvest using the facility as a demonstration farm and R&D facility and Harris County BUILD Partnership, a non-profit group, using the facility for educational and charitable purposes.  It is anticipated that the crops grown will be donated, or sold at cost, to provide fresh produce to low income families in the North Pasadena area.  The entire proposed campus area, almost two city blocks, will be designed and built to allow the flow of tourists without impacting operations. The City has been asked to develop a project overview to be presented in August to department heads at the Pasadena Independent School District’s Kirk Lewis Career & Technical High School and the Continuing and Professional Development Department of San Jacinto College regarding academic curriculum development to be located at the CLARA campus.

The Harris County BUILD Partnership was established in January 2015 to eliminate the conditions that cause food insecurity in north Pasadena by launching a new healthy, accessible, and community-supported local food system.  The conveners of the BUILD Partnership are the Houston Food Bank, the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services (“HCPHES”) and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Additional members of the BUILD Partnership include CHI St. Luke’s Health, Memorial Hermann Health System, Brighter Bites, CAN DO Houston, City of Pasadena, Neighborhood Centers Inc., Pasadena Health Center and the U.T. School of Public Health.

The BUILD Partnership is an extension of Healthy Living Matters (HLM), a county-wide collaborative of over 80 organizations chartered in 2011 to address childhood obesity in Harris County. There is also a Pasadena-specific version of HLM called the HLM-Pasadena Community Task Force that has 23 members local to the Pasadena community.

On June 9, 2015, the Harris County BUILD Health Partnership was selected as one of seven projects out of over 300 applicants nationwide, to receive a $250,000 grant from the inaugural BUILD Health Challenge class. The announcement was made live from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., featuring Karen DeSalvo, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was followed by a congratulatory letter from LaMar Hasbrouck, MD, MPH and executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials who remarked, “I look forward to tracking your progress and learning more about your projects’ best practices and challenges.” A portion of this grant funding will be used towards setting up the academic and non-profit portion of the CLARA project.

The Phase One initial project meeting has already been held. Caleb Harper, the Principal Investigator and Director of MITCityFarm, attended the meeting. As part of the non-profit academic portion of the CLARA project, all research would be made open source. The MIT Media Lab’s Open Agriculture (OpenAG) Initiative seeks to make agricultural research and data more available to researchers through an innovative cloud based system. Indoor Harvest is excited to continue its relationship with MITCityFarm by looking at ways to deploy the Open Ag platform at the CLARA research facility.

Chris Higgins from HortAmericas, a company involved in horticulture product distribution, consulting and services, also attended the meeting. Indoor Harvest has selected HortAmericas as a project consultant to the CLARA project. HortAmericas will assist the project by evaluating methods and process and providing feedback through the design phase as well as assisting in preparation of standard operating procedures.

It is expected that the project MOU will be finalized and property lease executed by August 2015 based on an existing timeline provided by the City. Construction on Phase One is planned for completion June 2016.

Phase Two of the project is anticipated to be developed on two acres of land currently available adjacent to the existing properties being provided by the City. Indoor Harvest, as the primary developer of the campus, expects to be able to provide commercial operators who build on the CLARA campus a unique group of incentives and key advantages in regards to distribution, manufacturing intelligence and access to resourcing and key agricultural production talent. Phase Two timeline will be dependent upon securing commercial partners who have adequate funding and approval by the City. The Company is currently in talks with several commercial parties interested in building on the CLARA campus.

In addition, the City of Pasadena is currently considering creating a tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) in the immediate area surrounding the CLARA campus.  A TIRZ is a public financing structure that Texas law allows to target tax revenue helping to support redevelopment in underserved areas. Such a zone, if created, could provide an additional economic incentive for tangential services to locate on the project site.  As of now, the City is not obligated to create a TIRZ zone and no such zone may ever come to fruition.

Consistent with the SEC’s April 2013 guidance on using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to make corporate disclosures and announce key information in compliance with Regulation FD, Indoor Harvest is alerting investors and other members of the general public that Indoor Harvest will provide weekly updates on operations and progress through its social media on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Investors, potential investors and individuals interested in our company are encouraged to keep informed by following us on Twitter, Youtube or Facebook.





Indoor Harvest Corp, through its brand name Indoor Harvest™, is an emerging design build contractor and OEM manufacturer of commercial aeroponic and hydroponic system fixtures and framing systems for use in Controlled Environment Agriculture and Building Integrated Agriculture. Our patent pending aeroponic fixtures are based upon a modular concept in which primary components are interchangeable. We are developing our aeroponic and hydroponic systems for use by both horticulture enthusiasts and commercial operators who seek to utilize aeroponic and hydroponic vertical farming methods within a controlled indoor environment. Please visit our website at for more information about our Company.



This release contains certain “forward-looking statements” relating to the business of Indoor Harvest and its subsidiary companies, which can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “estimates,” “believes,” “anticipates,” “intends,” expects”and similar expressions. Such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to be materially different from those described herein as anticipated, believed, estimated or expected. Certain of these risks and uncertainties are or will be described in greater detail in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These forward-looking statements are based on Indoor Harvest’s current expectations and beliefs concerning future developments and their potential effects on Indoor Harvest. There can be no assurance that future developments affecting Indoor Harvest will be those anticipated by Indoor Harvest. These forward-looking statements involve a number of risks, uncertainties (some of which are beyond the control of the Company) or other assumptions that may cause actual results or performance to be materially different from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Indoor Harvest undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as may be required under applicable securities laws.


Indoor Harvest Corp

CEO, Mr. Chad Sykes


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Buffering coir not necessary if it’s processed properly

Proper processing of coir to lower its natural high salts level should eliminate the need to buffer it with calcium nitrate.

By David Kuack


Coir has become a major component of both greenhouse vegetable and container crop production. It can be used by itself, for instance in grow bags, slabs and propagation cubes, or it can be used in growing mixes with other components like sphagnum peat, perlite and bark.

Coconuts, which are produced by coconut palms (Cocos nucifera), consist of husks that surround the nuts. The nuts are consumed as food and the husks are used to
produce various types of coir growing substrates, including chips, chunks and peat. Coir peat is a by-product of the husk fibers that are used to fill cushions and car seats.


Naturally high in salts
Dr. Hugh Poole, international agricultural consultant, said coconut coir is initially high in sodium, potassium and chloride salts.
“Where the coconut coir originates from can have an impact on the salt levels,” Poole said. “Coconut palms produced inland away from the ocean may not accumulate as much sodium, potassium and chloride, but growers should assume that all coconuts will have high salt levels.
“These salts are relatively soluble and are not totally bound by the coir so they are easily leached. Most coir producers use rain water for most of the year to remove the salts. If the EC (electrical conductivity) level is below 1.0 milliSiemens per centimeter (mS/cm), growers should not have to leach the coir. In most cases, the coir producers have already leached the coir for the growers. It should be ready to use. If the salts level is high, then the coir producer has not done its job. A producer should be able to provide growers with the coir’s EC value, its pH value and other information, including percent moisture, as well.”


producers should be able to provide growers
with the coir’s EC value, its pH
value and other
information, including percent moisture.

Photos courtesy of
Poole advises growers using coir to test for soluble salts before it is combined with other mix components and before any plants are placed in the coir.


“If the level of salts is low, then a grower doesn’t need to worry about sodium, potassium and chloride,” he said. “Many growers say the soluble salts level should be less than 1.0 mS/cm. Others say the salts level should be less than 0.5 mS/cm. It really comes down to how the coir is going to be used. If Ellepots are going to be filled with coco peat for young seedling production, then the soluble salts level should be around 0.5 mS/cm. If the coco peat is being blended with sphagnum peat, perlite or some other growing mix components and plants are being transplanted into containers, the coir soluble salts level can be higher. I have seen EC values as high 3-6 mS/cm. In these instances, unless the coir is being diluted with a lot of other mix components, growers would certainly want to leach the coir before it is used.”
Poole said growers who ask their suppliers for a low EC coir is similar to asking for a low EC peat moss or compost.
“If growers have to deal with a growing mix component with an EC level that is always bouncing around, it is going to be very challenging for those growers from crop to crop and from year to year,” he said.


To buffer or not to buffer
Poole said some growers are asking suppliers to buffer their coir with calcium nitrate.
“These growers are thinking that the cation exchange sites are loaded with potassium and sodium ions and if the coir isn’t buffered with calcium nitrate then their crops may suffer a calcium or magnesium deficiency,” he said. “These types of deficiency problems are more commonly encountered with hydroponic systems. If a substrate is being used, then this usually isn’t a concern.
“Most of the coir’s exchange sites are tied up with sodium and potassium. These ions are readily replaced by calcium. If calcium is applied, much of that calcium is going to be tied up in the exchange capacity taking out sodium and potassium. Therefore calcium is not in the substrate solution for utilization by the plants. There is a lag before the cation exchange capacity can be fully charged with calcium, potassium and magnesium. If a grower isn’t cognizant of this lag and doesn’t address it, it can cause deficiency problems. When 50 ppm calcium is incorporated in the fertilizer solution, the leachate may only contain 10 ppm calcium. Not that the plants utilized the other 40 ppm. Much of that 40 ppm was tied up at the exchange sites and will be available later.”


Avoiding deficiency problems
Poole said if the coir’s EC level is initially low and growers apply a Cal-Mag fertilizer at the beginning of a crop, there shouldn’t be deficiency problems. He said growers using reverse osmosis water, in which there is no calcium or magnesium, should make adjustments in fertility especially if they are producing a fast growing crop. Although no deficiency problems might occur, Poole said growers should be diligent in monitoring fertility levels.
“Once the cation exchange sites are charged with calcium and magnesium, then there is free exchange and there shouldn’t be any problems,” he said. “In the first two to four weeks, growers should probably start out with higher calcium and magnesium levels if they’re growing with coir. They should try to favor calcium and magnesium absorption at the exchange sites. This
is a precautionary step.”


If the coir’s EC level is initially low and growers
apply a Cal-Mag fertilizer at the beginning of a
crop, there shouldn’t be deficiency problems.
Poole said growers, who are using coir and are planning to use a 20-10-20 fertilizer, need to be aware that this fertilizer does not contain any calcium, magnesium or sulfur.

“The growers are going to have to add these nutrients,” he said. “If growers are using coir they have to recognize that the exchange sites need to be filled or charged with calcium and magnesium before there starts to be a free exchange of nutrients back and forth.

“With coir where the exchange sites are filled with sodium and potassium, the only way of removing these ions is by reducing them with leaching with water or by overcompensating with calcium and magnesium.”

Poole said initially, the natural salts found in coir must be leached with water. The remaining salts will be exchanged with calcium and magnesium by a buffering treatment or with elevated levels in the fertility program. He said buffering is not an option for organic growers.

“If coir is washed well and its EC is below 0.5 mS/cm or lower, then the coir shouldn’t have to be buffered for most crops. If calcium nitrate is used to buffer the coir, magnesium has to be provided as well.”

Poole recommends growers should review both their water analysis and their fertilizer analysis to know what nutrients they are applying and to confirm nutrient levels.

“Young plants and bare-root plants are more sensitive to high salts than to short-term nutrient imbalances,” he said. Long-term crops should be monitored using tissue analyses to optimize plant nutrition and crop productivity.

For more: Hugh
Poole, FloraSynergy; (864) 359-7090;


David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;
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Evaluating field-bred lettuce varieties for hydroponic greenhouse production

University of Arkansas researchers trialed 65 lettuce varieties to determine their potential for production in greenhouse hydroponic systems.


By David Kuack


An increasing number of greenhouse ornamental plant growers are looking to expand into edible crops. There are also field vegetable growers who would like to expand their production to include greenhouse crops.
Some of the easier and faster crops for growers to try to produce in a greenhouse are lettuce and other fresh greens.
One of the issues these growers are facing is what varieties of lettuce can be grown in a greenhouse environment. Much of the commercial lettuce breeding is focused on outdoor field production. Growers looking to expand their lettuce offerings beyond commonly produced greenhouse varieties usually have to do their own trials looking for field varieties that can be adapted to a greenhouse environment.


Need to expand greenhouse varieties
University of Arkansas horticulture professor Mike Evans said he is constantly receiving inquiries from growers about what lettuce varieties can be grown in greenhouses.
“At Cultivate’14 we surveyed growers who participated in one of the greenhouse vegetable seminars about their educational and research needs,” Evans said. “One of the growers’ responses was the need for variety information.
“If you look at seed catalogs, most of the information describing lettuce varieties is based on field production, not greenhouse. So if a grower wanted to grow lettuce hydroponically in a greenhouse during the winter there is little information available. If a grower wanted to use nutrient film technique or deep flow floating systems in a greenhouse, there’s basically very little information on how lettuce varieties would do in these production systems. Most of the production information is field-based.”
Evans said there is also a need for evaluating lettuce varieties for fall, winter and spring greenhouse production. He said these variety evaluations need to be done in different regions of the country to see how they perform under different climates.


Lettuce variety evaluations
University of Arkansas researchers selected 65 lettuce varieties for evaluation in greenhouse production systems. A nutrient film technique and deep flow floating system were used for the trials.
“Our goal with the variety trials was to generate better and more variety information and to determine which varieties would work best in climates similar to ours,” Evans said. “We especially wanted to be able to make variety recommendations across a production year. That is, varieties which work well in the fall, winter and spring.

“There are certain varieties that do well during winter. But as soon as the days start getting longer, the variety begins to bolt. Or a variety may do well in the fall and spring, but during the lowest light levels of winter, it has some type of production issue.”

Photo 1, IMG_1619, Mike Evans, Univ. of Ark.
University of Arkansas researchers selected 65
lettuce varieties for evaluation in greenhouse
production systems.
Photos courtesy of Mike Evans, Univ. of Ark.


Evans said the information that has been collected is for lettuce varieties that perform well in a glass greenhouse in Arkansas.
“These varieties may not respond the same way in Michigan, Arizona, Florida and Texas,” he said. “They also won’t respond the same way in locations where the light and humidity levels are different. These trials are probably good recommendations for growers in climates similar to ours.”
Lettuce varieties were planted from September through May. No crops were grown in June, July and August. Four crops were produced during the fall to spring cycle.
“Some growers try to grow during the summer months by chilling the nutrient solution,” Evans said. “We weren’t set up for summer production. Having trialed 65 varieties we will probably select 15 of the best performing varieties to evaluate for summer performance. For the summer evaluations we will have to use a different greenhouse set up in order to chill the nutrient solution.”


Measuring growth rate
Evans said one of major growth parameters measured was biomass production or growth rate.
“The quicker the plants grow, the shorter the production cycle,” Evans said. “Every day on the bench is cost to the grower. We looked at fresh weight and dry weight, two measures of growth.
“Some growers let lettuce grow for a specific amount of time. Other growers try to achieve a specific weight.”
Evans said the lettuce crops were grown on a 42-day production cycle in both the NFT and deep flow systems. At the end of the 42-day cycle the lettuce was harvested and measurements were taken.
“Sometimes if a variety is a fast grower, the lettuce might exceed the weight that a grower would want,” Evans said. “That tells us this variety could have been grown in a much shorter period of time. Or a variety that didn’t reach a minimum weight at the end of the 42-day cycle was considered a slow grower. Fresh and dry weights were used as a measure of how fast a variety can grow. How fast can a variety put on biomass? That is what growers are selling—biomass.”


Photo 2, IMG_1600, Mike Evans, Univ. of Ark. (1)
Lettuce varieties that did well in a nutrient film
technique system tended to do well in a deep
flow float system.


Evans said there were similarities in how varieties performed in the two production systems.
“If the varieties did poorly in NFT, they tended to perform similarly in deep flow too,” he said. “If a variety did well in NFT, odds were high that it did really well in deep flow.”


Identifying disorders
Evans said the two most common problems he hears about lettuce from growers are powdery mildew and tipburn.
“Ninety percent of the calls I receive are about these two problems,” he said. “We rated the lettuce varieties we trialed for tipburn and powdery mildew. Powdery mildew, in our region of the country, is the disease that can often give growers fits. It can really wallop a lettuce crop.  We also measured the incidence of tipburn, which can be a problem on a number of greens.”
Evans said semi-heading and heading (butterhead) types seem to be more prone to tipburn.

“What happens is that as these varieties start to form heads there is an area of high humidity,” he said. “There is this little microclimate of high humidity. If a grower is growing under real high humidity, has structures with poor air circulation or the nutrition levels aren’t right, a calcium deficiency can occur. These can create a tipburn problem. We saw much less tipburn on varieties that tend to be loose leaf types.


For more: Mike
Evans, University of Arkansas, Department of Horticulture, Fayetteville, AR
72701; (479) 575-3179 (voice);;


Top performing lettuce varieties
The following lettuce varieties did well in the four greenhouse production trials conducted at the University of Arkansas.


Butterhead types
Deer Tongue





Fancy leaf types
Black Hawk

Dark Red Lollo Rossa

Dark Red Lollo Rossa
Dark Red Lollo Rossa
New Red Fire
Red Sails
Ruby Sky
Oak leaf types




Romaine types
Green Forest
Red Rosie
Red Rosie
Red Rosie




David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas:
Posted on

Could LEDs replace plant growth retardants?

Researchers at Michigan State University used LED lights to produce compact flower and tomato seedling plugs.

By David Kuack
Growers and researchers are studying the effects that specific light wavelengths can have on ornamental and edible crops. Research studies are focusing on the effect light wavelengths can have on a variety of plant processes including growth, flowering, fruiting and postharvest quality.
Michigan State University horticulture professor Erik Runkle and former graduate student, now floriculture/nursery production extension educator Heidi Wollaeger studied the impact the ratio of red to blue light can have on the production of annual bedding plant seedlings. They looked at the effects of red and blue light on impatiens, petunia, salvia and tomato plugs.


Photo 1, DSC_0404, Heidi Wollaeger, Mich. St. Univ.
Michigan State University floriculture/nursery production
extension educator Heidi Wollaeger and horticulture
professor Erik Runkle studied the impact that red and
blue light can have on bedding plant seedlings.
Photos courtesy of Heidi Wollaeger, Mich. St. Univ. Ext.

“These four species are very common bedding plants for U.S. growers,” said Wollaeger. “They are key crops for their sales. The tomato plugs were being grown as vegetable transplants and not for production as greenhouse tomatoes for fruiting.

“We have also used these four species in other lighting trials that we have done recently. We wanted to be able to extrapolate from one study to another. In previous studies we looked at green light and the ratios of blue, green and red light.”
Seed was sown into 128-cell plug trays at a commercial propagator and moved into a large growth chamber at the university within two days where LED and fluorescent light treatments began immediately. The plants were Stage 2 plugs when the light treatments began. The seedlings had cotyledons and no true leaves. They were under the light treatments throughout the entire duration of the study.
Light treatments

The bedding plant plugs were grown in a growth chamber equipped with six individual LED chambers. The plugs grown under fluorescent lamps were grown in a separate growth chamber.


For all light treatments, plants were exposed to 160 micromoles per square meter per second (µmol·m−2·s–1) for 18 hours a day.


Photo 2, DSC_0459, Heidi Wollaeger, Mich. St. Univ.
Plug trays of impatiens, petunia, salvia
and tomato were grown in a large growth
chamber at Michigan State where they
received LED or fluorescent light treatments.

“We chose 10 moles per day because that is a suggested light integral for most plants to be of at least moderate quality,” Wollaeger said.
“We didn’t want to deliver a light intensity much greater because as the intensity increases so does the light installation cost as well as the energy costs to run the lamps. We were implementing a practical light level for growers.”

Wollaeger said the study was terminated after four to five weeks because at that time the plants were ready for a commercial grower to transplant.
“This study simulated what growers would actually do in their facilities if they were to install a sole light source LED chamber,” she said. “They would use this high value propagation space to produce the propagules and then transplant them and put them into the greenhouse. These could be used by growers who are finishing the plants themselves or by a propagator who is selling the plugs to other growers.”
Light effects on bedding plants

Wollaeger said all of the species grown under the red light dominant background with at least 10 µmol·m−2·s–1 of blue light displayed desirable plant growth responses.


“These plants showed compact growth, thicker leaves and thicker stems,” she said. “As a general rule of thumb, growers should provide at least 10 µmol·m−2·s–1 of blue light if they are providing
a red dominant environment to increase plant quality, which results in compact, well-branched growth.
“This treatment might reduce the need for plant growth retardants. If the light environment is being altered to include more blue light in a sole-source environment, stem elongation is reduced. This will depend on the crop. Every crop has a different vigor depending on the species and cultivar. This study only looked at four commercially important species.”


Photo 3, R_B_LEDtomato, Heidi Wollaeger, Mich. St. Univ.
Four bedding plant species, including tomato, grown
under a red light dominant background and under at
least 10 µmol·m−2·s–1 of blue light
displayed desirable plant growth responses, including compact growth,
thicker leaves and thicker stems.

Plants grown under the fluorescent lamps usually produced the most chlorophyll, but also had the thinnest leaves. Impatiens and salvia had greater fresh shoot weight when exposed to treatments without blue light than with at least 80 µmol·m−2·s–1 of blue light.

Impatiens grown under a high proportion of blue light developed more flower buds. Wollaeger said whether this early flowering is a negative or positive effect depends on the plug cell size.
Photo 4, ImpatiensunderallblueLEDlight, Heidi Wollaeger, Mich. St. Univ.
Impatiens grown under a high proportion of blue light
developed more flower buds than
plants provided with mostly red light.
“If the plants are being grown in a small plug size like a 288 cell and will be transplanted into large finished containers, it might not be desirable for early bud development,” she said. “The formation of flower buds could impact the rooting of the plants, but that depends on the cell pack size. If a grower is transplanting the plugs directly into smaller containers, he might want earlier flowering.”
Reduction of tomato intumescences

A benefit of growing tomato plugs under high blue light levels and fluorescent lamps was the reduced incidence of leaf intumescences (sometimes called edema), which are small protrusions that form on leaves, stems and petioles. Wollaeger said this physiological disorder has been associated with a lack of ultraviolet light or blue light.

“This physiological disorder is cultivar specific,” she said. “Some cultivars are more prone to developing this disorder compared to others. ‘Early Girl’ is the cultivar that we used and it did develop intumescences under treatments with small amounts of blue light.”
More greenhouse research

This particular research study did not look at the effects of the light treatments after plants are moved into the greenhouse.
Wollaeger said Dr. Runkle’s lab is currently conducting another study to determine the lasting effect of light treatments on transplanted plugs.

“Whether or not a light treatment has any lasting effect once the propagules are transplanted and placed in the greenhouse is going to depend on the light environment in the finishing location,” she said. “If the daily light integral is at least 10 mol·m−2·d–1 during the plug stage, there is probably going to be some height suppression when the plants are finished in the greenhouse. I wouldn’t expect there would be a major lasting effect of stem elongation suppression once in the greenhouse.”

For more: Heidi
Wollaeger, Michigan State University Extension, Nazareth, MI; (269) 384-8010;;


David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas;
Posted on

High tunnels enable growers to increase production of high-value berries

 High tunnels can be a part of a production system that allows growers to produce berries year-round while improving fruit yields and quality.


By David Kuack


High tunnels have different uses in different places, said Marvin Pritts, professor and chair of the Horticulture Section of Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science in Ithaca, N.Y.


“In California, many growers use the tunnels for rain exclusion,” Pritts said. “In other places, tunnels are used to help cut down on the wind and to regulate temperatures. In the Northeast U.S. the tunnels work in multiple levels. They offer protection from rain. They also offer some temperature and wind control. Their only limitation in the Northeast is the length of the seasons.”

Pritts said growers in the Northeast have been using high tunnels for about 15 years.


“We have plenty of water, good soils and the population,” he said. “It has been exciting for growers to see the response of the plants grown in the high tunnels. Growers have been able to extend production by about a month on either side of the growing season so that it is earlier or later.”

Pritts said growers of tomatoes, cucumbers and greens have taken the most advantage of using the tunnels.

“Growers who produce tomatoes were the first ones who really got into using the high tunnels in a major way,” he said. “That was followed by cucumbers. These tunnels were used for summer vegetable production. During the cooler season there are a lot of greens produced, including spinach, arugula and some other greens that can almost be grown year-round in tunnels.

“Vegetable growers have been able to extend their production season for a longer period than ever before. Also, growers have been able to produce some crops, like blackberries and figs, that typically don’t grow here in the Northeast. Tunnels allow growers to overwinter these crops.”


Supplying local markets

Pritts said in the Northeast most of the crops are being grown for local sales. “The growers supply local grocery stores like Wegmans and farmers markets,” he said. “Wegmans has its own farm where it is using high tunnels to grow various crops for its own stores.”  Wegmans Organic Farm in Canadaigua, N.Y., uses high tunnels to grow year-round at the 50-acre operation.

Pritts said he expects water restrictions in places like California will cause more growers to look at incorporating high tunnels into their production.

“At some point more of the production is going to have to shift eastward,” he said. “Growers in the Northeast don’t have a long season, but high tunnels offer some control. It makes sense to grow some of these crops locally where the markets are, where there is enough water and it’s relatively inexpensive to ship crops locally rather than shipping them across the country.”


Growing raspberries year-round

Pritts said growers in the Northeast are using high tunnels to harvest red raspberries earlier in the summer and to extend the production into the fall. Because the use of tunnels for berry production is a recent development, Pritts doesn’t really know which season the growers are using the tunnels for more. He expects it’s both.


Most of the high tunnel research that Pritts has done has been with primocane fall-bearing raspberries. These plants can be mowed down to the ground in the spring and they grow up and flower and fruit in the fall. Pritts said the canes can be pinched so that the plants flower and fruit later into the fall.

Marvin Pritts at Cornell University said growers could use
a combination of fall- and summer-fruiting raspberry
varieties along with outdoor field and high tunnel production to produce a crop year-round.Photos courtesy of Marvin Pritts, Cornell Univ.


“In October, raspberries aren’t available from field-grown plants in the Northeast because the temperature is too cold,” he said. “High tunnels allow raspberries to be picked in October when other locally-grown berries aren’t available. Growers in southern states are already done with their fall production. There also aren’t a lot of berries coming in from other parts of the world at this time. For those countries in the southern hemisphere, it would be too early to be harvesting berries. There is an opportunity for local growers in the Northeast to take advantage of limited
market supplies. It’s a niche market.”

Pritts said growers also have the option of growing summer raspberries producing fruit in late June and early July.

“Summer production requires more trellising because the canes have to be maintained through the winter,” he said. “If a grower produces summer raspberries, the high tunnels have to be kept up year-round. With fall production, since the canes are cut back, the plastic covering on the tunnels can be removed for the winter. Since the covering is going to be removed, the tunnel structure doesn’t have to be as strong because snow loads aren’t an issue.

Pritts said being able to take the plastic off of the tunnels is a real advantage during the winter for the fall raspberries.

“Some of the salts in the soil can be leached out with the normal snow and rain during the winter,” he said. “Then the plastic can be put back on. If the raspberries are being grown in containers, then the growing medium can be flushed to leach out excess salts.”

Pritts said if a grower is producing summer raspberries or blackberries, the plants have to be brought through the winter in a tunnel.

“During a typical year, raspberries and blackberries make it through the winter in a tunnel just fine, although these past two winters were exceptions,” he said. “But the high tunnel has to be able to support the snow loads in order to protect the plants. During heavy snow storms, especially if the snow is wet, the snow needs to be removed from the high tunnel to prevent it from collapsing. These structures don’t usually handle more than a foot of snow.”

Pritts said it should be easier for growers to produce fall-fruiting raspberries.

“Fall raspberry varieties can produce a summer crop, but typically these varieties are grown solely as a fall crop,” he said. “If these plants are grown as a fall crop and allowed to go through the winter, they will produce a small summer crop. Most growers prefer to choose varieties specifically for summer production.”

Pritts said a grower could use a combination of fall- and summer-fruiting varieties along with outdoor field and high tunnel production to produce a raspberry crop year-round.


Differences in yield, quality

Pritts said one of the major reasons growers are producing raspberries in high tunnels is because of the difference in fruit quality.


One of the major reasons growers are producing raspberries
and blackberries (shown) in high tunnels is because of the
difference in fruit quality, including having a longer shelf life.


“Tunnels keep rain off of the fruit so that it doesn’t get moldy as fast as field-grown berries,” he said. “The quality is like day and night between raspberries grown in high tunnels and those grown in the field. Tunnel raspberries definitely have a much longer shelf life.

“In regards to flavor, the raspberries grown in tunnels are so high yielding that they are not as sweet as field-grown berries. Because the yields are so high in tunnels, it is hard for the plants to provide sugar to all that fruit. Even though the tunnel berries may be less sweet, the yields are so much higher. If someone ate the tunnel raspberries and didn’t have the field raspberries to compare them too, they would say the tunnel raspberries were very good tasting.”


Improving plant performance

Pritts said field-produced raspberries generally have a 10-year life span for the field they are being grown in.

“After a couple years for field-grown plants, there tends to be a decline in fruit production,” he said. “In high tunnels we never fertilize, but we amend the soil with compost before we plant. We don’t have to fertilize because the vigor of the plants is already good. There hasn’t been any decline in the yields of the high tunnel plants even after 10-12 years.”

Pritts said high tunnel plants aren’t exposed to the same environmental stress plants encounter in the field.

“Soil pathogens survive when the soil is wet for long periods of time,” he said. “In outdoor fields the soil is going to stay wet for long periods. Many of the disease pathogens also like cooler temperatures. I expect these pathogens gradually take the plants down in the field. In tunnels there usually aren’t long periods of standing water as would occur in outdoor fields.”

Another benefit of the high tunnels is wind exclusion.

“The stems on the raspberry canes are very thin and there is a lot fruit at the top of the plants,” Pritts said. “When the wind starts to blow, it whips the field-grown canes back and forth. This doesn’t happen in the tunnels. Previous research has shown the wind can be very detrimental to raspberry yields.”

Since the plants grown in tunnels aren’t exposed to the rain, drip irrigation is used to water the plants.

“Irrigation in the tunnels is between the plant rows,” Pritts said. “Outside when it rains the weed seeds germinate. In the tunnels there’s not much weed pressure at all.

“Another advantage of the high tunnels is the fruit can be harvested even when it’s raining, when it’s cold or when the wind is blowing. People don’t want to harvest in inclement weather. The tunnels enable a grower to schedule berry harvesting.”

Pritts said raspberry growers who use tunnels have to closely monitor plants for two-spotted spider mite.

“The difference in the populations of two-spotted mite is the biggest issue,” he said. “Outside, often times, growers don’t have to be concerned with mites. The mites are in the field, but they are at very low levels. They don’t like being wet so when it rains it depresses the populations. In the high tunnel where it doesn’t rain, there is a dry environment, which the mites thrive in.”


For more:
Marvin Pritts, Cornell University, School of Integrative Plant Science,
Horticulture Section, Ithaca, NY 14853; (607) 255-1778;


Other sources of information on the production of high tunnel berries:



Low tunnel strawberries


Marvin Pritts, professor and chair of the Horticulture Section of Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science is also doing a study on the production of strawberries in low tunnels. He is growing day neutral strawberries, which flower and fruit nearly all summer into the fall, in low tunnels.

“The strawberries are planted on a double row on a 16-inch raised bed with white plastic,” he said. “Hoops, which are covered with plastic film, go about 18 inches above the plants. The plastic is held down on the hoops with bungee cords.”


Marvin Pritts said it is about four times cheaper on a
per area basis to grow strawberries in a low tunnel
than in a high tunnel.


Pritts said the plastic film helps to keep the temperatures lower during the summer. The covered tunnels also retain some heat during the fall.

“The sides of the tunnels remain up almost all the time,” he said. “When it rains or it’s going to be cold or windy, the tunnel sides are lowered. The strawberries produce high quality fruit which can be grown nearly year-round.”

Pritts said it is about four times cheaper on a per area basis to use a low tunnel than it is to use a high tunnel because a tall hoop structure isn’t required.

“The plants only grow low to the ground so there’s no need to construct a 15-foot tall structure,” he said. “Like in the high tunnels, the plants in the low tunnels are watered and fertilized with drip irrigation. The drip line runs down the middle of the bed between the two rows of plants.”


David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;
Posted on

LEDs have the potential to change how crops are grown

The use of LEDs to provide specific light wavelengths
could allow growers to increase nutritional values of edible crops, enhance the
intensity of foliage and flower color and improve the postharvest longevity of
ornamental and edible crops.

By David Kuack
Improvement in the light intensity delivered by light
emitting diodes (LEDs) is helping to expand their use for the production of
both edible and ornamental crops. Research with LEDs has been going on for
about 30 years. Only within the last 10 years have increases in the light
intensities of LEDs allowed researchers to study the direct effects of narrow
wave bands of light on plant physiology.

“LEDs are now available to deliver all blue, all red, all
green, all yellow light or mixtures,” said University of Tennessee plant
sciences professor Dean Kopsell. “White LEDs are almost a broad spectrum light
source. White LEDs are actually mostly blue light with a little bit of red, yellow
and green light with a white phosphor over them.”
Kopsell and his colleagues at the University of Tennessee
are studying the impact individual types of light can have on the nutritional
qualities of edible crops. Their work is focusing on crops that can be produced
relatively quickly in 25-35 days, including microgreens and baby greens. They
have also begun looking at some herbal crops including basil, tarragon and

at the University of Tennessee are finding
that exposing plants like brassicas
to blue light is
 having a significant effect on their nutritional values.
Photos courtesy of Dean Kopsell, Univ. of Tenn.

“Some of the unique things we are finding are when we
change the light quality environment, going away from broad band light sources
like fluorescent, incandescent and HIDs, and exposing plants to narrow band
wavelengths of red and blue light, many things are changing in the plants.
These narrow bands of light are having an effect on several plant quality
parameters from a metabolic standpoint.”

Potential of specific
light wavelengths

University of Tennessee researchers have found that
exposing plants to narrow wavelengths of the light spectrum has resulted in the
increased production of antioxidants and anti-carcinogenic compounds within the
“What is even more interesting is some of the primary
metabolites like the mineral nutrients are also increasing,” Kopsell said. “We
are shifting the light ratios and putting more blue light into the mix. Blue
light is close to the ultraviolet (UV) range and has higher energy values than
red light. Because of the higher energy level associated with blue light, the
more blue light we are exposing the plants to, it seems the more significant
the results are on nutritional values.
“We haven’t got hard data yet, but everything that we can
see, smell and taste, these blue lights not only affect nutrient uptake, and
anti-oxidant metabolism, but they also affect aromatic compounds and flavor
compounds. They make them more intense.”
Although researchers have only recently begun to study
the impact of narrow light wavelengths on plant physiology, Kopsell said this
will be the major use of LEDs in future applications.
“Not only is a grower going to be able to select the type
of light and intensity from the LED manufacturer, but eventually the grower
will know when is the critical time to apply a specific amount of light to a
crop. One of the things that we have seen with these short term crops is using
the light as a finishing-off treatment. The crops are grown under regular light
conditions like any grower would have the ability to do and then just before
harvest the plants would receive a specific type of light for a certain period
of time. This light treatment would stimulate the plant physiology uptake and
metabolism right before the plants go to the retail market.”
Kopsell said research exposing leafy brassicas to blue
light prior to harvest has intensified pigments and green leaf color.
“We increased the green pigments in the leaves so that
they looked more vibrant,” he said. “Other research has shown that UV light
increases the anthocyanin compounds in leaf lettuce. Providing a little UV
light, which is blocked out in most greenhouse environments, at the right time,
a grower can get a crop to color up quickly before the plants are shipped out.
What we have done with leafy greens to intensify the color of the leaves can
also be done with petal tissue. By changing the light quality a grower could
get more vibrant flower colors.”

Need for fine tune

Kopsell said whether plants are grown outdoors, in a
greenhouse or in a closed controlled environment with artificial light, the
plants are using specific wavelengths from the available light source.
“Horticulture, floriculture and agronomic researchers
know how much light is needed in order to produce crops with broad spectrum
light,” he said. “The million dollar question that hasn’t been answered is how
much light is needed from LEDs to achieve that same level of production? It is
going to be less than the daily light integral (DLI) from a broad spectrum
light source. But, right now we can’t tell you how much less it’s going to be.
“Applying specific light wavelengths when the plants need
them, whether it’s for juvenile growth, flowering or fruiting, we don’t have a
good grasp on the amount of light that the plants actually need. If a grower is
only going to supply his plants with red and blue light, how much less light
can a grower use in that production system?”
One of the reasons that plants will not require as much
light from LEDs is because of the reduction in light stresses.

of Tennessee studies have shown LEDs
provide  a less stressful light environment
for plants.

“Providing specific types of red and blue light, the
amount of stress on plants is reduced because the plants don’t have to tolerate
the light not being used for metabolism and physiology,” he said. “We have data
that shows LEDs provide a less stressful light environment for plants. So we
have to determine how much less light is needed. It is going to require an
extra level of management to know what kind of light, how much light and when
to apply it. Growers are going to be able to use LEDs to fine tune the light
environment. It’s going to depend on the crop, how it’s being grown, where it’s
being grown and how the crop will be used. Is it an ornamental, edible or
medicinal crop? It’s not going to be as easy as sticking a seed or cutting into
a substrate and letting Mother Nature take control. It’s really going to take
some fine tune management. But the future looks bright so far.”
For more: Dean
Kopsell, University of Tennessee, Plant Sciences Department, Institute of
Agriculture, Knoxville, TN 37996-4561; (865) 974-1145;

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;

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Meeting the fertilization needs of greenhouse lettuce

Greenhouse lettuce can be a successful container or
hydroponic crop for ornamental plant growers looking to give edibles a try.

By David Kuack
Ornamental plant growers considering producing an edible
greenhouse crop may want to try lettuce. Neil Mattson, associate horticulture
professor at Cornell University, said lettuce is a plant with moderate
fertility needs.
“Grown hydroponically, lettuce has somewhat lower
fertility needs than a greenhouse tomato crop,”

Ornamental plant growers interested in growing edible
crops may want to try lettuce. It can be produced in
containers with a growing medium or hydroponically
in troughs or a float system (pictured).
Photos courtesy of Cornell University

Mattson said. “Grown as a
container crop, lettuce is relatively similar to petunia. However, lettuce has somewhat
greater calcium needs. Growers can produce a relatively good crop of lettuce in
containers, if they use a complete fertilizer at a moderate strength of 150
parts per million nitrogen.”

Mattson said head lettuce can be produced in containers similar
to a bedding plant crop. The seed would be planted into a plug tray for three
to four weeks. Transplanting the plugs into larger containers, the crop could
be finished in four to six weeks depending on light and temperature levels.
He said baby leaf lettuce can be grown in flats. The seed
is directly sown into the growing medium and grown for three to four weeks
until plants reach suitable size.
Calcium deficiency

Leaf tipburn is a physiological disorder that can occur
when growing greenhouse lettuce. It can greatly impact the salability of a

“The main reason that tipburn occurs is the lettuce is
growing too fast under high light,” Mattson said. “For lettuce, the target
daily light integral is 17 moles per square meter per day. The light level should
be lower if there is poor air flow. If the light level goes higher than 17
moles, the rapid growth of young leaves is affected. There may be an inadequate
calcium supply, especially as the lettuce heads begin to mature and close. If
there is not enough air flow and not enough transpiration by the young leaves,
then not enough calcium can reach the leaves through the xylem sap. This can
cause tipburn to occur. It’s a case of pushing the plants too fast.”
tipburn in lettuce is not a result of a lack of calcium
supplied to the plants,
but an inability of the plants to
transport enough calcium to the young leaves.
Mattson said in many cases, tipburn is not a result of a
lack of calcium supplied to the plants, but an inability of the plants to
transport enough calcium to the young leaves.
“For container-grown lettuce, there is typically enough
calcium if the growing medium has a lime charge and if the fertilizer water
solution contains more than 50 ppm calcium,” he said. “Many common bedding
plant fertilizers, including 20-20-20, 20-20-20 and 21-5-20, do not contain
calcium. These fertilizers are typically used with tap water sources that
contain moderate alkalinity. In many cases, these tap water sources also
contain sufficient calcium.”
Mattson said it is important for growers to test their
water sources to make sure adequate calcium is being supplied, either from the
water source or added into the fertility program. If calcium needs to be added,
calcium nitrate is most commonly used. However, calcium nitrate is not
compatible with most complete fertilizers.
“Usually if a grower has to add calcium, it can be done
using a separate stock tank or a separate injector,” Mattson said. “One
strategy is to use a separate injector for the calcium nitrate in a series with
a 20-10-20 fertilizer that is being added with a second injector. Adding 50 ppm
calcium from calcium nitrate should be sufficient.
“An alternative method of calcium application, if a
grower has only one injector is to rotate between two separate stock tanks, one
for calcium nitrate and one for the bedding plant fertilizer. A grower would then
rotate between the two fertilizers. For example, for two days he would use the
20-10-20 fertilizer and on the third day he would use the calcium nitrate
applied at 150 ppm.”
Production with
organic fertilizers

Mattson has been able to grow a relatively good crop of
container-grown lettuce using granular organic fertilizers incorporated into
the growing medium.

“We incorporated poultry-based organic fertilizer (Sustane
8-4-4) into the growing medium at a rate of 8 pounds per cubic yard for both
the seed germination and transplant growing mixes,” he said. “That provided
good fertility, but for optimum yields I would also suggest making some liquid
organic fertilizer applications, maybe two to three times a week as the plants
get older.”
Mattson said the organic granular fertilizer he used is
temperature-dependent and is broken down by soil microbes. Sustane 8-4-4 has a
45-day release period, but under very warm greenhouse temperatures Mattson has
noticed quicker release rates. He said there are other slow release organic
fertilizers with different release periods. For example, Verdanta EcoVita lists
a 75-100 day release period.
electrical conductivity and pH

One strategy that Mattson recommends growers do periodically
is to monitor the electrical conductivity (EC) and pH levels.

“Monitoring EC will help growers determine if the plants
are receiving sufficient fertility,” he said. “If a grower is incorporating a
slow release fertilizer, this is a good indicator of when additional fertilizer
needs to be added. An under-fertilized plant will show yellow lower leaves from
nitrogen deficiency.”

electrical conductivity (EC) can help avoid
under fertilizing lettuce plants,
which show yellow
lower leaves caused by nitrogen deficiency.

Mattson said monitoring pH is important as it impacts
nutrient availability. He said lettuce isn’t commonly susceptible to iron
deficiency, but it will start to show up when the pH starts to increase above
“Monitoring EC and pH is especially important in
hydroponics,” he said. “A good grower who is producing his crop in a growing
medium in containers will monitor the pH every week or two. The pH may change
over the course of a week by maybe one unit.
“Growing hydroponically, a grower should be monitoring
the pH every day and make adjustments. Depending on the type of fertilizer and
the quality of the water, the pH in a hydroponic set up could change two units
in a day.”
Optimizing lettuce

Mattson said light and temperature are going to be the
drivers for how long it takes to finish a lettuce crop. Whether a grower is
producing the crop in containers with growing medium or hydroponically
shouldn’t have any effect on the length of production.

He said plant spacing can also impact the size of the
lettuce head. If plants are grown in small containers and spaced pot-to-pot,
the lettuce heads may not reach full size.
For greenhouse lettuce, Cornell University researchers
developed a hydroponic production model that enables growers to produce a
lettuce crop from seeding to harvest in 35 days if temperature and light
intensity are at optimum levels.
“When the light level isn’t optimized, a lettuce crop can
take more than 100 days from seeding to harvest,” Mattson said. “High pressure
sodium lamps would be the best lamps to use if a grower is looking to provide
supplemental light in a greenhouse to increase the daily light integral. For
the Cornell model we adjust the amount of light in the greenhouse based on the
amount of outdoor light. Seventeen moles per square meter per day is the daily
light integral we are aiming for with the model. The optimum temperature for
plant development is about 75ºF
during the day and 65ºF
at night.”

For more: Neil
Mattson, Cornell University, School of Integrative Plant Science; (607)

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;

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Plant factories continue to evolve

As technology improves, plant factories have the
potential to operate in the U.S. and Canada to produce crops that are difficult
to grow using current conventional methods.

By David Kuack
When you hear the term “plant factory” what picture comes
to mind? University of Florida professor and mechanical engineer John Schueller
said the traditional definition of a plant factory is a place in which there is
no natural light and artificial light is used to produce plants.
“I’m more of a traditionalist in that I feel a plant
factory is a place that has mainly or only artificial lights in order to grow
plants,” Schueller said. “But a greenhouse with multiple levels of plants in
which natural light is the dominant source and is supplemented with artificial
light, I would also consider that to be a plant factory.
“People involved in protected plant agriculture,
including greenhouses and indoor plant factories, are displaying a lot of
creativity. There are a lot of different systems being tried out. It’s
difficult to make a hard and fast definition of a plant factory. A traditional
greenhouse with plants on raised benches or growing on the floor is not usually
recognized as a plant factory.”
Plant factory

Schueller, who spoke at the Plant Factory Conference in
Kyoto, Japan, in Nov. 2014, said the most important automation that occurs in a
plant factory is during the growth stage.

“The application of light and fertilizer is when the main
automation occurs,” he said. “There is automation during planting when a grower
is trying to establish the plants. And there is also automation during

University of Florida mechanical engineer John
said the technology of plant factories
is improving with the main improvement
occurring with LED lighting.

courtesy of John Schueller, Univ. of Fla.

Schueller said during the Plant Factory Conference there
was a lot of discussion about which lights are the best for using in plant
“There are questions that still need to be answered about
what are the best wavelengths and what are the best cycles for different
crops,” he said “Even though there are a considerable number of plant
factories, we still don’t know what the optimal conditions are for growing
plants. There is a lot of variation and experimentation occurring.”
Schueller said automation in the plant factories will
probably occur with the planting practices before it happens with harvesting.
“In Japanese plant factories the finished plants are
brought to the harvesters,” he said. “There is automation to transfer the
plants. People are doing the harvesting of leafy greens, but they are brought
to the workers at an appropriate height and position so that they can be very
efficient and very productive. Obviously, if there are 14 layers of plants
under lights the plants are moved to the harvesters. But there is still some
human involvement in harvesting the plants.”
Schueller said an advantage to a plant factory is the
ability to precisely control the environment. “The technology is improving,” he
said. “The main improvement is with LED lighting. As LEDs become less expensive
and better that will help in the development of plant factories. Also, less
expensive sensors for measuring nutrient solutions are becoming available. As
growers gain more experience with this technology they get better at
controlling the production environment.”
Plant factory

Schueller said economics play a big role in what will be
feasible in how these factories operate.

“The Japanese market for fresh fruits and vegetables is
much different than in the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “In the U.S. and Canada,
vegetables are cheaper. The market will not bear some of the costs that will be
accepted in Japan. In Japan consumers are willing to pay $40 for a watermelon.
“From an agricultural economic standpoint, it seems to me
the big advantage of a plant factory is that a grower can control the
production situation very well. The disadvantages are the energy costs for
running the artificial lights and the capital equipment costs. The best
opportunity is to produce a product that has certain characteristics, that has
no pesticides applied, that has no bacterial contamination, so that a grower
can demand a premium price for it.”

Schueller said one area of plant factory production
that shows great potential
is being able to develop
techniques that allow high end vegetables to have
nutritional characteristics that can be easily manipulated.

Schueller said one area of plant factory production that
shows great potential is being able to develop techniques that allow high end
vegetables to have nutritional characteristics that can be easily manipulated
more so than in other production environments.
“One of the Japanese plant factories that was built by
Fujitsu is growing lettuce which has a low potassium content,”
he said. “This lettuce is being produced for kidney dialysis patients and
people with chronic kidney disease. This type of crop has a lot of potential
for U.S. and Canadian markets. Developing vegetables that have nutritional
characteristics so that the markets will be able to tolerate higher production
costs that are associated with plant factories.”
Schueller said the plant factories in Japan can produce
leafy green vegetables in about 15 days.
“The production cycle needs to be as short as possible,”
he said. “If a plant factory is controlled properly and maintains sanitary
conditions, it is possible to produce leafy green vegetables with specific
nutrient characteristics without pesticides. For those types of crops a grower
can demand a premium price to pay for the equipment and energy to produce
Fast, precise

Schueller said the plant factories in Asia are producing
primarily leafy green vegetables.

“I expect these crops would have the greatest potential
in the U.S. as well,” he said. “As more consumers move away from iceberg
lettuce and romaine lettuce, they tend to look for other types of lettuce and
leafy greens and microgreens. There might be real potential with these crops
because they can usually be turned much more quickly.”

has over 200 plant factories. One of the reasons that
the country has experienced
a proliferation of these facilities
 is food security. Sixty percent of the country’s
food is imported.

Schueller said some of the issues pushing plant factories
in Asia are related to domestic food production and land availability.
“Japan imports almost 60 percent of its food,” he said.
“For the Japanese it’s an issue of food security. Singapore has increased its
vegetable consumption from 7 percent to 8 percent. In Singapore there is a
limited amount of land. They are looking for ways to maximize food production
and plant factories offer them a solution. With plant factories that have
vertical farming they can push the production to maximize the space. In the
U.S. that isn’t a big concern. The plant factories in the U.S. that will be
successful are the ones that grow products that are difficult to produce using
conventional methods.”

For more: John
Schueller, University of Florida, Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace and Agricultural
and Biological Engineering; (352) 392-0822;

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;

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A new Ohio State University farm-to-fork project offers students fresh produce

Ohio State University corporate executive chef Lesa
Holford has started growing edibles in a campus greenhouse for use in food
prepared for the school’s dining facilities.

By David Kuack

Since August, kale, basil and romaine lettuce have been
growing in an Ohio State University College of Agriculture greenhouse. These
crops aren’t part of a research project. They are being grown for use in the
preparation of food served at several campus dining facilities.

“We are growing about 1,200 plants,” said university
corporate executive chef Lesa Holford. “About 70 percent of the plants are
kale, 15 percent are basil and 15 percent are romaine. The plants were started
in August. We are still harvesting from the original kale and basil plants. In
late October we put in a second planting of 240 romaine plants.”
A learning experience

Holford, who has no formal training in plant production
other than her own backyard garden, said the project has been a learning

associate Elaine Grassbaugh (left) of Ohio State’s
Department of Horticulture
and Crop Science, student
volunteer Courtney George, and corporate executive
Lesa Holford harvest basil in a campus greenhouse.
by K.D. Chamberlain, CFAES Communications

“I randomly chose the crops that we are growing,” she
said. “I’m now looking to ask people in the College of Agriculture their
recommendations for additional crops. I’m interested in trying crops that might
have greater yields. I’m learning as I go.”

Holford has received assistance in producing and
harvesting the plants from the faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture.
“Greenhouse coordinators Jim Vent and Elaine Grassbaugh
are some of the people who are working with me,” Holford said. “They have shown
me how to harvest the crops. This includes where to cut the basil, how to
harvest the kale so that it continues to grow and how to cut the romaine so
that its leaves don’t start to turn yellow.
“They showed me how to germinate the seeds in a misting
room. They explained to me when to take the seedlings out of the misting room
and move them into the greenhouse to acclimate them before planting. I
initially grew the basil with the romaine. I now understand why you don’t put
warm temperature crops with cold temperature crops. It’s been an atmosphere of
learning and that’s what has been great.”
Utilizing university
ag products, facilities

Holford said the idea for growing in the greenhouse
evolved from using other ag products produced at another campus facility.

“We were using a lot of beef and pork products from the
university meat lab,” she said. “We actually reached the point where the lab
couldn’t produce enough of what we needed. So then we started tapping into the
student-run Waterman farm complex.
“I told the farm staff if they could grow it, we could
use it. We were buying produce from the farm, primarily lettuce. The quantities
were a little unpredictable. That is another reason why we decided to start
this project with the College of Agriculture. It gave us the opportunity of
learning while growing the food. It also gave us the opportunity to grow something
we had more control of. Being able to have more control over the food that we
offer our students is important.”
Holford said she hasn’t had any major challenges
producing the plants.
“We had some aphids that infested the terminals of a few kale
plants,” she said. “It wasn’t a major outbreak. We used an organic
horticultural oil to control the aphids.”
Fresh food

Holford said she decides what recipes the produce that is
harvested goes into.

“The produce is sent to the university’s central
production kitchen where it is used to make different foods served at various
locations around campus,” she said. “I usually deliver the produce when we have
enough to harvest.
“About 15-20 pounds of kale goes into the kale and bacon tarts
that are sold in six Grab ‘n Go cafes. The basil goes into the pesto that is
used to make Grab ‘n Go caprese sandwiches that are sold all over campus. The
romaine goes into Grab ‘n Go Caesar salads that are sold in about 20 different
dining locations.”

grown in an Ohio State University College of
Agriculture greenhouse will be
used in food served
at various campus dining facilities.
by Neil Hoyng, Ohio State University

Holford said more than 260 pounds of produce has been
harvested from the greenhouse.
“When we started to harvest the crops it was once a week,
but that has slowed down because of the weather,” she said. “The basil, in
particular, has really slowed down.”

Prior to starting the project, volunteer help was
solicited from the student body to assist in the watering of the plants. Sustainable
Plant Systems Horticulture student Kathryn Losnes was hired to assist in the
growing and to coordinate the schedule of volunteers to water the plants.

“We had over 20 students who volunteered to water the
plants,” Holford said. “They are from various majors. We have a couple of
students who signed up from a vegetarian focus group. Some are from the school
of horticulture. Some of them just wanted to volunteer to work in the
greenhouse and grow the plants. We conducted an orientation so that the
volunteers could learn how to water the plants.”
Expansion plans

Based on the success Dining Services has had growing in
the greenhouse, Holford said she would like to expand the program to grow more

“I’m hoping that we will be able to expand production by next
summer,” she said. “We are looking at several options. We may be able to get
more bench space in the greenhouse we’re currently growing in. There may also
be an opportunity to put up a high tunnel next to the greenhouse or to put up a
high tunnel at Waterman farm or perhaps both. There are also some high tunnels
at the university’s Wooster campus that could be brought to the Waterman
facility, which is only 2 miles away from the greenhouse we’re using now.”
Holford said another future opportunity would be to
involve students in the university’s Culinary Science program in the project.

For more: Lesa
Holford, Ohio State University, University Dining Services; (614) 477-0240;;

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;

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Short course to focus on controlled environment agriculture

University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture
Center is hosting the 14th annual short course focused on greenhouse production
and design.

The 14th annual Greenhouse Crop Production & Engineering Design Short Course,
March 22–27, 2015, will be held at the Westward Look Resort in Tucson, Ariz.
Hosted by the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center
(CEAC), the short course will include three full days of presentations on many
aspects of controlled environment agriculture (CEA). There will also be one day
of hands-on workshops at the CEAC campus.

of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture
Center will host the 14th annual Greenhouse
Crop Production
& Engineering Design Short Course, March 22–27, 2015.

The Short Course will feature 23 seminars
covering topics related to plant production, including crop selection, hydroponics,
aquaponics, lighting, fertilization, integrated pest management and food safety.
There will also be presentations related to growing structure design, environmental
control, high tunnels and urban agriculture. The nine hands-on workshops will
address several topics including tomato, lettuce and herb production,
fertigation, sensors and controls and the first experience with growing in a

day of hands-on workshops during the Greenhouse Crop
Production &
Engineering Design Short Course will cover a
 variety of topics including growing
lettuce and herbs in
floating systems.
An exhibitor room will enable conference attendees to meet
with industry professionals to discuss their current operations or any potential
projects they may be considering. The short course also provides an opportunity
for networking and information exchange between growers, engineers, scientists,
researchers, and other industry professionals.

Webcast option
Those unable to travel to Tucson to attend the Short Course
have the option of viewing the presentations streaming live or after the event
has concluded. For those who choose the live Webcast attendance option, they
will have the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters in real time. The
presentations will also be available for later viewing in a password protected
internet database.
For more: Aaron
Tevik, University of Arizona, CEA Building, Tucson, Ariz.;;

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LEDs found to have multiple uses on multiple crops

Researchers at Purdue University are finding LEDs can
have positive effects on both ornamentals and leafy vegetables.

By David Kuack

As more research is done with light emitting diodes
(LEDs), scientists are discovering new ways to use the lights on ornamental and edible
plants. Researchers at Purdue University have done extensive studies on annual
bedding plants, comparing the growth of seedling plugs and vegetative cutting liners
under LEDs.
“My goal is to continue to do research with LEDs because
we are finding new and exciting results, especially with the indoor production
of young plants and microgreens,” said associate horticulture professor Roberto
Lopez. “Some of the work that we have been doing has shown the benefits of
“If you would have asked me two years ago if I would ever
try to produce plugs indoors and not in a greenhouse, I would have said no. If
you would have asked me five years ago if I would be working on greens or
vegetables, I would have said no. Now I am doing both of those things with

Purdue University graduate student Joshua Craven
and associate horticulture professor Roberto Lopez are
studying the effects LED
lights have on ornamental
plants and leafy vegetables.
Photo by Tom Campbell, Purdue University

No need for

Lopez and former graduate student Wesley Randall found
that greenhouse-grown seedling plugs of impatiens, marigold, petunia, vinca and
zonal geranium did as well or better when supplemented with LEDs compared to
plugs supplemented with light from high pressure sodium lamps. What Lopez found
surprising was the quality of the plugs produced in a growth room with LEDs as
the only light source.

“LEDs produce better plugs when they’re grown indoors
than when they are grown in a greenhouse with sunlight supplemented with light
from LEDs or high pressure sodium lamps,” Lopez said. “It is amazing how good
the plugs look grown in an indoor multilayer production system with LEDs. The
plugs are compact, sturdier and greener with a similar root and shoot dry mass
to greenhouse-grown plants supplemented with light from LEDs or high pressure
sodium lamps.”
One crop that Lopez said they are still “tweaking” with
LEDs is petunias.
“Petunias, which are long day plants, when moved from an
indoor grow room equipped with red and blue LEDs, encountered a slight delay in
flowering in the greenhouse,” he said. “We are going to see if exposing the
plants to far-red LED light prior to moving them into the greenhouse will
induce them to flower.”
Using LEDs to
intensify leaf, flower color

Lopez said many of the annual spring bedding plants grown
in greenhouses in northern climates are produced under low light levels. The
result is that some plants don’t produce the same intense foliage colors that
they would if they were grown outdoors.

“Plants grown in glass greenhouses are not exposed to the
sun’s ultraviolet light because it is blocked by the glass,” he said. “The
result is that crops like zonal geraniums and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) don’t
“color up” like they would outdoors. One of the things we noticed with zonal
geraniums was the dark patterns on the leaves stood out much more when the
amount of blue light was increased. We hypothesized and found it was a result
of an increase in anthocyanin production. We have also looked at geraniums that
have very dark foliage and found not only does leaf color darken, but flower
color can be made darker by exposing market-ready plants to red:blue LEDs.”
Lopez said the change in leaf color due to anthocyanin
production was also dramatic for purple fountain grass.
“Purple fountain grass is a very popular ornamental
species produced by many growers,” Lopez said. “Grown in the greenhouse, the
leaves appear to be dull green and not very purple. We found that putting the
plants under a combination of red and blue LEDs for one to two weeks of what we
are calling “end-of-production lighting” resulted in an attractive purple
color. UV light is what stimulates anthocyanin synthesis.”
He said in the case of purple fountain grass, only the
leaves exposed to the LED lights change color. Those leaves not exposed to the
LED light remain green.
Expanding studies
to vegetable crops

Seeing the positive results that occurred with LEDs and
purple fountain grass, Lopez and PhD student W. Garrett Owen expanded the
research to red leaf lettuce to see if they could produce a similar response.

“Trying to produce red leaf lettuce can be difficult for
greenhouse growers if they are producing crops under low daily light integrals
(DLIs),” Lopez said. “Growers producing red leaf lettuce under low DLIs are
essentially producing green lettuce.
“We placed red leaf lettuce under the same LED treatments
used for purple fountain grass and the plants colored up in three to five days.
Based on our research, red leaf lettuce and purple fountain grass can be placed
under a 50-50 red and blue LED combination prior to harvesting or shipping
triggering anthocyanin formation.”
on Purdue University research,
red leaf lettuce can be placed under a
50-50 red
and blue LED combination prior
to harvesting triggering anthocyanin formation
the lettuce‘s red color.
Photo courtesy of Roberto Lopez,
Purdue University
Based on the results related to LEDs and anthocyanin
formation, Lopez said the studies may be expanded to look at the impact of LED
light on ornamental cabbage and kale. “Growers, especially those in the South,
have a hard time coloring up ornamental cabbage and kale,” he said. “It is
primarily a temperature response, as the night temperatures get cooler the
plants start to color up.”
Lopez and Owen did a small study placing ornamental cabbage
and kale under LEDs that resulted in a minimal color change. When
greenhouse-grown plants were grown under cool night temperatures and exposed to
LEDs, they exhibited the most intense color.
“What we are proposing is for growers in warmer climates
who have access to coolers, is to use a cool temperature/LED treatment,” he
said. “We will be conducting this study next fall. Smaller container sizes like
4-inch pots, could be rolled on carts into a cooler and exposed to cool
temperatures and LED lights for three to four days prior to shipping enabling
the plants to color up.”

Another study conducted by graduate students Joshua
Gerovac and Joshua Craver looked at the effect of LEDs on the growth of three
different microgreen species (kohlrabi, mustard and mizuna) in an indoor
multilayer production system. The study included three different light
qualities and three different DLIs (light quantity).

“Overall what we have seen is as the DLI increases, this
is for three microgreen species we trialed, the length of the hypocotyl,
basically the height of the microgreen, decreases,” Lopez said. “The more light
the plants are provided, the more compact they are. If the plants received 6
moles of light, they were much taller than if they received 18 moles of light.
Depending on the growers’ market, some customers might want microgreens that
are a little leggier or they might want plants that are more compact. That will
depend on market preference.”
The ideal LEDs

Lopez said the ideal vertical LED light module would
contain all of the wavelength colors.

“The vertical LED light with all the different colors
would enable growers to turn them on when they need them and off when they
don’t, depending on the stage of plant growth,” he said. “Once flowering begins
a grower doesn’t want stem elongation. Far-red light works for flowering so the
far-red would be turned on for the minimum amount of time required for
flowering. If the grower wants to increase the amount of anthocyanin in the
leaves or flowers, he can turn on the red and blue light near the end of the
crop. To be able to turn on specific colors when a growers needs them, that is
something I envision happening with LEDs.”

For more:
Roberto Lopez, Purdue University, Department of Horticulture and Landscape
Architecture; (765) 496-3425;;

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;

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Deardorff Family Farms donates school salad bar during Tour de Fresh

Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, Calif., donated a salad
bar to Sequoia Middle School in Newbury Park, Calif., on Oct. 15, 2014. The
donation was part of the Tour de Fresh four-day fundraising cycling event. The company was
a silver sponsor of the event.

Tom Deardorff II, president at Deardorff Family Farms,
who attended the launch of the salad bar at the school said he was amazed by
the response of students.
“Kids began to back up one behind the other in the two
lines going to the salad bar,” Deardorff said. “It was awesome. They were
smiling and joking and asking if they could use the big food trays instead of
the small trays. They went for it hard and fast and kept coming.
“I could hear the staff saying, “We need more salad. We
need more kiwi.” Kids were chomping on carrots and loving every bite. In the
end, it was probably a 65/35 split with 65 percent of the kids choosing to go
through the salad bar line.”

Family Farms donated a salad bar to Sequoia
Middle School in
Newbury Park, Calif., on Oct. 15, 2014.
 The donation was part of the Tour de
Fresh four-day
fundraising cycling event that raised $124,303.

Tour de Fresh
exceeds fundraising goal

Tour de Fresh was the first collaborative fresh produce
industry event that raised funds for the United Fresh Start Foundation’s Let’s
Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign. The goal of Tour de Fresh and its
participants was to raise $120,000 to privately finance 40 new salad bars in
school districts across the country. The foundation exceeded its fundraising goal and raised $124,303, ensuring more than 40 schools will receive salad

The inaugural Tour de Fresh started in Monterey, Calif.,
on Oct. 13, and ended 275 miles later in Anaheim. The event aimed to bring
awareness to the LMSBTS program originally founded by Food Family Farming
Foundation, National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, United Fresh Produce
Association Foundation and Whole Foods Market in support of First Lady Michelle
Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative.

For more: Deardorff
Family Farms, (805) 487-7801; Tour de

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Organic fertilizers provide option to grow more sustainably

Organic fertilizers offer growers another tool for
producing their crops with more sustainable inputs.

By David Kuack
Growers of both food and ornamental crops are facing
increased scrutiny regarding their production practices from the pesticides
they apply to the amount of water and energy they use. In October, Whole Foods
Market launched its Responsibly Grown
program. The company
said the purpose of this new rating system is to assess production practices
that impact human health and the environment. The system labels fresh fruits,
vegetables and flowers as “good,” “better” or “best.” The program also prohibits
the use of some of the hazardous neurotoxins still permitted in agriculture.
If growers implement more sustainable practices to
produce their crops, are consumers willing to pay more for them? A recent University of Florida study
focused on consumers’ willingness to spend more on ornamental plants based on
plant attributes related to sustainable production methods, container types and
origin of production. Consumers were willing to pay up to 16 cents more for
plants grown using energy-saving and sustainable production methods, plants
grown in non-conventional containers and plants grown locally.
Organic fertilizers
show potential

Claudio Pasian, horticulture associate professor at Ohio
State University in Columbus, said an increasing amount of pressure is being
put on growers related to the environment by both retailers and consumers.

“Growers may be forced by their clients to produce more
sustainable products, including more organic products,” Pasian said. “Here in
Ohio, like in other parts of the country, there are concerns with fertilizers
running off into waterways and leaching into ground water. In the future
“fertilizer” may become a taboo word for some people. For some people, perception is
reality. Using an organic fertilizer may help growers achieve a more
sustainable image with retailers and consumers.”

Based on research Pasian has conducted on ornamentals
plants and herbs, he said organic fertilizers look like a promising alternative
to traditional water soluble fertilizers. Like any new product or technology,
he said there are differences between traditional water soluble fertilizers and
organic fertilizers and growers will have to learn how to use them.
Pasian began his research on organic fertilizers as a
result of a substrate manufacturer seeking to conduct trials incorporating
organic fertilizer into some of its consumer growing mixes.
“The company wanted me to run some experiments with a
number of fertilizers,” he said. “There were no liquid organic fertilizers
tested because the purpose of the study was to incorporate the fertilizers into
growing mixes. All of the organic fertilizers tested were in a solid form,
either a powder or small granules. Most of the organic fertilizers were
animal-based. The control plants were treated with a 20-10-20 water soluble
fertilizer at 100 parts per million nitrogen.”
Pasian said two of three annuals (seed geranium, pansy
and petunia) grown with the organic fertilizers did very well. Although the
organically fertilized plants were smaller in size, he said they were
commercially salable.
Petunias grown with Miracle Gro Organic Choice All Purpose 7-1-2
at a rate of 5.9 grams per pot (left), Sustane 8-4-4 at a rate of 5.1 grams
per pot (center) and Osmocote 15-9-12 at a rate of 2.7 grams per
pot (right). Top = side view; Bottom = top view.
Photos courtesy of Claudio Pasian, Ohio State University

Pasian found the only plants that occasionally did not do
well with organic fertilizers were pansies. He has not conducted any further experiments
to determine why there were issues with pansies grown with organic fertilizers.

“I’m not sure why the pansies did not do as well as the
other species,” he said. “There were some phytotoxicity issues. The quality of
the plants was not as good and there was high rate of mortality.”
fertilizer trials

After the initial trials with organic fertilizers showed
positive results, Pasian expanded his research with additional ornamental
plants. He compared incorporating Scotts Miracle Gro Organic Choice and Sustane
organic fertilizers to a controlled-release and water-soluble fertilizers. All
of the plants in the study were grown in 4½-inch pots containing Fafard 3B
bark-based growing mix without a fertilizer charge.

“I grew six annual bedding plant species (angelonia, seed
geranium, hypoestes, impatiens, pansy and petunia) with the different
fertilizers,” he said. “The plant growth for plants fertilized with the
controlled-release fertilizer and water soluble fertilizer were very similar.
In most cases the water-soluble fertilized plants were the largest, followed by
the controlled-release fertilizer and then the organically fertilized plants.
Seed geraniums grown with Peters 20-10-20 water soluble fertilizer
at a rate of 100 ppm nitrogen applied with irrigation as needed (left)
or with a single application of Sustane 8-4-4 at a rate of 2.6 grams
per 4.5-inch container (right).

“The plants grown with the organic fertilizers were
slightly smaller. But overall the organically fertilized plants did well. In
some cases, the plants being smaller could be a positive effect because that
means growers may not have to apply growth regulators.”

Trialing herbs and

Pasian has received a grant from the Horticultural
Research Institute to expand his organic fertilizer study to include herbs and
perennials. He worked with a local grower on the plant selection and chose
three herbs (basil, parsley and thyme) and three perennials (Nepeta cataria, rudbeckia and salvia). Like
the annuals study, the herbs and perennials were grown in 4½-inch pots
containing Fafard 3B bark-based growing mix without a fertilizer charge.

“In the case of basil, the initial application of organic
fertilizer was enough to finish the crop,” Pasian said. “One single application
incorporated into the growing mix before planting the plugs would be sufficient
for the production cycle. For thyme it would be very close to finish with one
application, almost the same as basil.”
Pasian is planning to repeat the trials with parsley
because he encountered some issues with heat stress and disease problems.
“During the parsley trial even the control plants had
problems,” he said. “The plants were grown during the summer so the warm
temperatures in the greenhouse may have contributed to the problems. I expect
when the parsley study is repeated during the winter and the temperatures have
cooled down the results will be different.”
Basil plants grown with Peters 20-10-20 water soluble fertilizer at
a rate of 100 ppm nitrogen applied with irrigation as needed (left)
and three rates of Miracle Gro Organic Choice (from left to right):
5.9, 4.5, or 3 grams per 4.5-inch container.

Pasian said since many perennials are long-term crops,
they will need additional applications of organic fertilizers.

“In the perennial trials, the first flush of growth with
the organic fertilizers was good,” he said. “But then the fertilizers ran out.
Applying a powder or a small granular organic fertilizer to each pot is not
realistic for growers. These organic fertilizers can be incorporated into the
growing mix prior to planting. Once these fertilizers are used by the plants, which
takes about five to six weeks, a grower can start applying a liquid organic
fertilizer. This could be a fish emulsion or similar type fertilizer.
“One single organic fertilizer application incorporated
into the growing mix is not enough. Additional fertilizer will need to be
applied probably more than once. The plants grew decently with one application,
but if larger plants are the goal then more fertilizer is going to be needed.”
Nepeta cataria
(catnip) grew very fast initially and was the first perennial to show
deficiency symptoms. Pasian said nepeta would require additional fertilizer
applications sooner.
Rudbeckia took much longer to show any deficiencies.
Pasian said since rudbeckia is a very slow crop with a longer production time,
it will need supplemental fertilizer applications.
“Organically fertilized rudbeckia produced a first flush
of growth that was as good as plants fed with water soluble and controlled-release
fertilizers,” he said. “But as time went on during production, the organically fertilized
plants needed another shot of fertilizer.
“I consider salvia to be an intermediate crop between
catnip and rudbeckia. I expect that salvia will require additional fertilizer
Pasian will continue the trial with the same herbs and
perennials this winter and coming spring. The plants will be grown in 1-gallon
containers to match commercial production practices.
“This research is not being conducted with the goal of
changing how fertilization is done by most growers,” Pasian said. “Water soluble
fertilizers are excellent products that growers use successfully. This research
will provide growers with information on how to produce a crop that has been
fertilized in a more sustainable way to satisfy a small percent of their clients.
“Marketing is going to be the issue for growers. If they
grow plants with both organic and water soluble fertilizers, those grown with
the organic fertilizer are going to have to be marketed differently so the
consumers know the difference and can make their choice about which plants to

For more:
Claudio Pasian, Ohio State University, Department of Horticulture and Crop
Science, (614) 292-9941;

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;

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University of Arizona Intensive Course will focus on hydroponic greenhouse tomato production

University of Arizona’s Hydroponic Greenhouse Tomato
Production Intensive Course is a six-day program that focuses on the specifics
of hydroponic greenhouse production.


The Hydroponic Greenhouse Tomato Production Intensive Course
will be conducted Jan. 4-9, 2015, at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Hosted by the university’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, the
course will focus primarily on hydroponic greenhouse tomato production. The
course will be taught by hydroponic specialist and professor of plant sciences Pat


of Arizona hydroponic specialist Pat Rorabaugh
will be the instructor for the Hydroponic Greenhouse Tomato
Intensive Course, Jan. 4-9, 2015.


Course participants will be provided a combination of
classroom lecture and discussion and hands-on learning in a hydroponic
greenhouse. Classroom topics include: greenhouse basics, production costs and
supply sources, plant propagation, crop layout and scheduling, crop
maintenance, plant nutrition, plant protection and food safety. Teaching greenhouse
discussions will cover: crop training and pruning, plant maintenance, plant
pollination, fertilizer preparation, pest identification and control and harvesting
and grading.

Course participants will be provided a combination of
classroom lecture and
discussion and hands-on
learning in a hydroponic greenhouse.

Participants will receive over a dozen hours of training
in a hydroponic greenhouse and over 30 hours of classroom discussion and
lecture that will effectively instruct them on how to hydroponically produce
greenhouse tomatoes. The course will also feature a round table discussion with
greenhouse engineers, where participants can ask experts questions about greenhouse
design and operations. A closing dinner will feature a presentation by
University of Arizona professor Merle Jensen, who will discuss the
current state of controlled environment agriculture.

For more: Aaron
Tevik, University of Arizona, CEA Building, Tucson, Ariz.;; (520) 626-9566.

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Southwest Perennials improves production, shortens crop time with LEDs

Young plant grower Southwest Perennials has been able to
reduce the number of stock plants, increase the number of viable rooted
cuttings and shorten rooting times with LEDs.

By David Kuack
Jerry and Jonathan Soukup at Southwest Perennials in
Dallas, Texas, are constantly looking for ways to maximize production of their
starter plants. The father-son team produces over 300 varieties of primarily
heat- and drought-tolerant plants. The plants, 80 percent of which are
vegetatively propagated, are grown in 80,000 square feet of greenhouses at two
different locations. Plants are produced in 72- and 128-cell trays. One of the
things that the Soukups have done to run a labor-efficient operation is to keep
their cultural practices simple and repeatable.
Southwest Perennials produces around 4 million starter
plants annually. All of the young plants, both vegetative liners and seed plugs
and stock plants are grown in Berger BM6 standard growing mix to which RootShield is added.
“We’ve been using the same growing mix for nearly 10
years,” said Jerry. “The only thing we add is a layer of vermiculite on the top
of some seed-produced plug trays. The rest of the plants are grown in the
straight mix.”
LEDs have major
impact propagation

Jerry said the propagation system they have set up is
relatively simple using poly-covered 30- by 100-foot Quonset houses and
overhead mist. One new element that Jerry and Jonathan have added to their operation
is installing Philips GreenPower LED Deep Red/White Flowering Lamps and GreenPower
LED Deep Red/White/Far Red Flowering Lamps.

“At the 2013 Ohio Short Course, Hort Americas and Philips
Lighting were running a show special, buy 20 bulbs get 10 bulbs free,” Jerry
said. “We had heard and read about the benefits of LEDs so we decided it was a
relatively cheap investment to make to see if the lights had any effect on our
plants. We were on the skeptical side. I told Jonathan that we would invest a
couple thousand dollars on the lights and we’d see if there is any difference
with them.”
Jerry said it didn’t take long to see the benefits of the
LEDs on the plants. The bulbs were installed in mid-October and the plants
started to show the effects of the supplemental light in three to four weeks.
The Soukups were so pleased with the initial results that
they purchased an additional 70 bulbs.
“When we started in October, we were using 30 bulbs in
two houses,” Jerry said. “By March we were using 100 bulbs in 10 houses.

Jerry (left) and Jonathan Soukup
were so satisfied with the growth
results they got with the first 30 LED
they purchased that they
bought an additional 70

 “There is nothing else that is currently on the market
that could have as dramatic an effect on our production as these lights have
had,” Jerry said. “This is for propagation. It may be a different situation for
growers who are finishing the plants. What is ideal for us may not be ideal for
another grower. For our situation, these bulbs delivered a response that we
couldn’t have imagined.”

production methods

The Soukups maintain three different temperature regimes
in their greenhouses. Some of the most significant results from the LEDs
occurred when plants were grown under the lights and temperatures of 70ºF-72ºF.

“Ceratostigma, lantana and Salvia greggi showed some of the greatest growth,” Jerry said.
“Some plants grew so quickly that we had to move them out to the edge of the
greenhouse so they didn’t receive as much light. Some plants were actually
growing too vigorously under the warmer temperatures with lights and we had to move
them to cooler houses where the temperatures were in the 40s and 50s.
Vegetative  cuttings taken from lit stock plants rooted in an
average of four weeks compared to cuttings from unlit stock
plants that rooted in six weeks.
Photo courtesy of Southwest Perennials. 

 “Some of the results that we saw under the lights we
wouldn’t have gotten by applying more fertilizer or increasing the
temperatures. It was simply the lights that were causing the plants to grow.”

Jerry said this is the first time that they didn’t
encounter any delays in plug growth because of cold temperatures and cloudy

Vegetative cuttings propagated under LEDs had a much higher
rooting rate.
Photo courtesy of Southwest Perennials. 

 “Previously there have been times in the propagation area
where cutting production would lag by 10-14 days in January, February and
March,” Jerry said. “This is the time of year when we really need to be
shipping the plugs, but they just aren’t ready. Usually the plants don’t have
enough roots. This year we didn’t see any kind of growth stall.

Jonathan said some of the plugs actually had to be cut
back because they were growing so vigorously.
“We were actually able to take cuttings off of the
cuttings,” Jonathan said. “Cuttings that were taken off of stock plants that
weren’t under the lights and then were placed under the lights did not root as
quickly as the cuttings taken from stock plants that were lit.”
Cuttings taken from lit stock plants rooted in an average
of four weeks compared to the cuttings from unlit stock plants that rooted in
six weeks.
“We also had a much higher rooting rate for the cuttings
propagated under the lights,” Jerry said. “With the lights we have the
opportunity to turn a crop of cuttings four to six times.”
Increased market

Jerry said this has been a good year for his company as
well as his customers located in the 48 contiguous states. Southwest Perennials
markets most of its plants primarily through brokers and distributors.

“Last year our sales dropped off a little bit compared to
previous years,” Jerry said. “But we have seen a major increase in sales this
year. Sales started strong in January, which starts our peak shipping season,
and they have continued even into the fall this year.
“Sales didn’t end in the spring, they continued into the
summer and we are continuing to have steady sales. We are currently shipping
plants that we normally don’t ship at this time of the year. We have been
receiving orders for delivery in November through March that we haven’t gotten
in the past. People are saying that they had a good spring and they’re excited
about having a good fall. Some people I have talked with say they think this is
going to be a trend that continues over the next four to five years and
potentially longer. The increase in construction is a major driver in the
demand for ornamental plants.”

For more:
Southwest Perennials Inc., (214) 670-0955;;

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas;

Visit our corporate website at

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Growers, investors discuss horticultural opportunities

Attendees at the first “Realities of Growing Plants
Indoors” Short Course learned what it takes culturally to produce controlled
environment crops as well as how to finance and market their businesses.

By David Kuack
Based on the phone calls Gene Giacomelli receives at the
University of Arizona he said growers and would-be growers aren’t talking
enough to the people who are interested in investing in the industry.
Giacomelli, who is director of the university’s Controlled Environment
Agriculture Center and a professor in Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering,
saw an opportunity to bring the two groups together at the first “Realities of Growing Plants Indoors” Short Course,
which was held in Tucson in July.
“I receive phone calls regularly from investors wanting
to know about the possibilities of putting their money into production in
controlled environment agriculture,” Giacomelli said. “They feel they don’t
know enough about the industry. I was trying to get them together with growers
so that they could have some discussion. They had the opportunity to share
their vocabulary, their activities and the things that need to be done if they
want to invest in a successful business.
“This also applies to the growers, who are looking for potential
investors. Growers need to know how to make presentations and be able to
provide the information investors need in order to satisfy their stakeholders
if they are going to lend money or invest in a business.”
For the first 1½ days of the Short Course participants
were provided with the basics applied “how-to-grow” controlled environment

Attendees at the first “Realities of Growing Plants Indoors”
Short Course had the opportunity to tour a small, commercial-
sized tomato greenhouse, a supplemental lighting research
facility and a small grow box for greens.
Photos courtesy of University of Arizona

“The grower-focused presentations had an emphasis on
indoor production, which included greenhouses and also closed environments such
as vertical farming,” Giacomelli said. “Topics included irrigation, climate
control and lighting. We gave them some applied horticultural information that
they should at least be aware of and then learn more about if they want to get
into this business and grow indoors.”

Getting down to

During the last half of the second day the Short Course
transitioned to the business side.

“A couple of business people spoke about their
entrepreneurial horticultural activities,” Giacomelli said. “This presentation
transitioned the discussion to the third day where we conducted an investor and
business forum.”
Prior to the start of the business forum attendees took a
2-hour tour of the university’s production and research facilities including a small,
commercial-sized tomato greenhouse, a supplemental lighting research facility
and a small grow box for greens from Japan.
“The growers and investors had an opportunity to see what
growing was like in a traditional greenhouse using the sun as the light source
as well as growing inside using only electrical lamps,” Giacomelli said.
The business forum included a panel of five participants
including a produce distributor, two entrepreneurs who started their own indoor
food production companies, a regional buyer for a national grocery store chain
and a philanthropist investor.
Members of a business forum panel who spoke to Short Course
attendees included a produce distributor, two entrepreneurs who
started their own indoor food production companies, a regional
buyer for a national grocery store chain and a philanthropist investor.

“By bringing the two groups together we tried to give
those growers and would-be-growers who are considering starting a horticultural
business a chance to hear from those people who could provide them with a
reality check,” Giacomelli said.

For more: Gene
Giacomelli, University of Arizona, Ag & Biosystems Engineering Department,
Controlled Environment Agriculture Center; (520) 626-9566;;

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;

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Growing through the California drought

Bill Phillimore, executive vice president at Paramount
Farming Co. in Shafter, Calif., spoke at this year’s Seeley Summit which
focused on water. Phillimore, whose company is a producer of a variety of tree
crops, discussed the impact the drought has had on water availability and
trying to operate under severe water restrictions.

By David Kuack
This year’s Seeley Summit focused on “Water: Horticulture’s Next Game Changer?
Nowhere is the effect of water or lack of it more pronounced than in
California. Bill Phillimore, executive vice president at Paramount Farming Co.
in Shafter, Calif., knows firsthand the effects drought can have on an
agricultural producer. Phillimore’s administration responsibilities include the
handling of water and power issues.

Bill Phillimore, executive vice president at
Paramount Farming Co., whose responsibilities
include water and power issues, knows firsthand the
effects drought can have on an agricultural producer.
During this year’s Seeley Summit, Phillimore shared his
company’s experience dealing with severe drought conditions. He sat down with
Hort Americas to discuss what his company has experienced and what it is doing
to continue producing its crops during the drought.
1. How many acres
of production does your company have in California this year?

Paramount is farming more than 100,000 acres in 2014 with
a combination of citrus, almonds, pistachios and pomegranates.

2. How many acres
has your company taken out of production because of the drought?

We have managed to secure sufficient water for these
crops in 2014, but at very considerable expense. In some instances we are
applying less irrigation water than we would optimally prefer.

3. Has your
company ever faced the type of water restrictions it is facing in California
this year?

We have never faced water restrictions this severe in
California previously.

4. What is the
primary source of water for most of the crops your company is producing in

Due to our size our water comes from a number of
different sources, including the State Water Project, exchange contractors and
the Kern River. In almost all instances, this water is supplemented by
groundwater which is being particularly heavily used in 2014.

5. What methods of
irrigation is your company using to water the crops? Were these the primary
irrigation methods prior to the occurrence of the severe drought conditions?

All our property is irrigated with drip or micro
sprinklers as it has been for more than the last 20 years. The drought has not
changed our methods of irrigation because we made the change to more efficient,
practical systems some years ago.

Paramount Farming Co. is farming more than 100,000 acres
this year with a combination of citrus, almonds, pistachios
and pomegranates.
6. During your
presentation at this year’s Seeley Summit you discussed how your company used previous
research to determine when specific plants need to be watered. Based on the
company’s findings, have you been successful at manipulating the water delivery
without having a negative impact on the plants?

We hope that we have timed the application of water,
especially in those crops where there has been reduced amounts, so that there
has been no negative effect on plants or yields. Although in determining the
schedule we have relied heavily on previous experiments conducted on our
property, this is obviously being done on a far greater scale and thus it is
not currently easy to assess either the long or short term effects.

7. During the
Seeley Summit you mentioned that some of the crops currently being grown in
Kern County, Calif., are unique to this region? Can you give some examples of
these crops and what is unique about the conditions under which they are grown?

In Kern County, where we have the majority of our
acreage, we share climate with the rest of the Central Valley in California
with some slightly greater extremes and different soil conditions. All these
environmental factors, which allow dormancy in the winter, but not usually
extreme low temperatures, and hot, dry summers, are particularly suited to the
production of pistachios, almonds, table grapes, carrots and citrus.

8. During the
Seeley Summit you discussed the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Can you describe
what this plan is about?

Most precipitation in California occurs in the north of the
state while the majority of the usage, both urban and agricultural, occurs
south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. One of the greatest challenges
that California has is how to move water through the delta to southern
California without environmental damage.

There is currently an ongoing process, otherwise known as
the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), to move the point of diversion from the
south delta to the north delta and as part of the permits needed from the
federal wildlife agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine
Fisheries Service) have a 50-year habitat conservation plan which would put an
end to the constant litigation of the delta. Our company is very interested in
this project and believes it is extremely important for the economic future of
the whole state.

Applications of reduced amounts of water to Paramount’s crops
are based on experiments conducted at the farm aimed at
avoiding any negative effects on the plants or their yields.

9. During the
Seeley Summit you expressed concerns that some agricultural trade associations
and other agricultural producers could be doing more to help ensure that
growers continue to have adequate water supplies. Could you please elaborate on
how you would like to see these groups become more involved with water-related issues?

I did express concern during the Seeley Summit that all
trade organizations do an adequate job of representing their members because
they do not always understand all the issues that they are being asked to
address. These organizations often spend too little time consulting their
members, especially when the organizations are covering a broad range of issues.
I do believe that all farmers of whatever size need to be conscious of this
fact and that unfortunately there is no substitute for their personal
For more:
Paramount Farming Co., (661) 399-4456;

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas;

Visit our corporate website at