Indoor Agriculture Offers Opportunities To Imagine

Peter KonjoianIn May, I attended the 2nd Annual Indoor Agriculture Conference (Indoor Ag-Con) in Las Vegas, Nevada. A handful of familiar faces were among the 200-plus attendees. For the most part, this was a new group of growers and vendors for me. On one hand, encountering new faces and interests was fresh and exciting; on the other hand, it was also a bit disconcerting.

Several facts discussed during the conference make for compelling conversation. One of these is that the current population of our planet, 7 billion, will rise to 9 billion by the year 2050.

As I stared at the graph of world population growth showing a near vertical slope, a numbing reality set in. It’s coming, and we are not producing food efficiently enough to be confident we can feed that many extra mouths.

As the indoor agriculture movement grows, it may surprise greenhouse operators to learn that greenhouse production is considered “indoors.” It wasn’t until after the first few speakers that I tuned in to this; any agricultural production that is not outdoors is by default considered indoors. So the excitement over urban agriculture in warehouses and food production inside south facades of high rise urban buildings should also include growing food in greenhouses.

Who will have a seat at the table as greenhouse-based agriculture gains traction? What I learned at the conference is that this broad definition of indoor agriculture has essentially extended the invitation to us, greenhouse growers traditionally focused on ornamental crops. Now it’s up to us, to join the conversation and own our industry’s responsibility to help push the proverbial boulder up the mountain.

Water For Plants Or People?

Another fact from the conference: the population centers of Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego all draw water from the Colorado River, in addition to its home states of Colorado, Utah and Arizona. California’s Imperial Valley and agricultural interests in each home state all draw water from the river for irrigation. The expression having a dog in the hunt becomes having a pump in the river.

Many agree that traditional, industrial agriculture is neither capable of feeding the world efficiently, nor sustainable in its attempt to do so. Indoor agriculture’s ability to recirculate irrigation water offers immensely more efficient use of this precious resource than its outdoor counterpart.

Is the goal of indoor agriculture to displace industrial agriculture? Simply, no, that’s unrealistic. Who knows what decades of progress will bring, but for now, the objective is to return a less than total yet significant portion of our food production to its consumption points. Grow food closer to where it’s consumed using indoor systems, including greenhouses.

Along the way, supply chains will shorten, freshness will improve, nutrition will rise and people will be healthier. That’s the goal. While flowers and ornamentals still remain an important component of our culture, the need to grow more food is beginning to compete with ornamentals for greenhouse production attention.

Exciting New Greenhouse Hydroponic Vegetables

I have included some photos that illustrate my research greenhouse with newly installed hydroponic systems to serve my From Flowers to Food project. Figure 1 shows my first sowings of radish, carrot, beet, onion, turnip, kale, Swiss chard, pak choi and baby greens. All are being tested in various plug trays with traditional growing media. A portion of the research will focus on identifying optimal plug tray densities, cell depths and volumes, growing media and fertilizers to generate best management practices for a category of crop production designated as root crop plug production.

First harvests began in May with a scientific observation — holy cannoli! How much fun I had growing the different colors and shapes of radishes pictured in Figure 2. I don’t accept that there are limitations to what can be grown. The only limitation is our imagination.

Consider the wide selection of food crop species and their associated cultivars in our seed catalogs. If that’s not enough diversity, I cannot wait for our plant breeders to recognize the indoor hydroponic opportunities and begin breeding specifically for these production systems.

My brain is firing at synapses I didn’t even know existed with thoughts of the shapes, colors, sizes, flavors and nutritional value our breeders will deliver. Imagine how easily production could be tailored to local ethnic preferences. Talk about niche marketing — many opportunities await us.

Goals For Continued Research On Crops And Growing Systems

The project is ready to move on to specific production input research. Research opportunities have been discussed with manufacturers across production input categories and now that systems are online, collaborating partners will identify products and inputs to be included in the project. Future articles in this series will present findings of individual experiments aimed at defining best management practices for growers to access.

The last two pictures show a nutrient film system (NFT) designed for work on head lettuce, herbs and other crops (Figure 3), and a drip tube and leachate section of the greenhouse designed for high-value fruiting crops including tomato, cucumber, pepper and eggplant (Figure 4).

As the research gears up, the story will be built around four categories of crops. First is root crops including radish and others listed earlier. Second is leafy greens and includes head lettuce, herbs and baby greens.

Third is a category designated as petiole crops, which includes items such as celery, kale, Swiss chard and pak choi, crops where the leaf petiole comprises a significant portion of the harvested plant. I think this category is going to work well in high-density ebb-and-flood systems with appropriate cultivar selection. Fourth is high-value fruiting crops such as tomato, cucumber, pepper and eggplant.

 

 

Topics:

Leave a Reply

More From Business Management...
Workers

July 23, 2016

5 Reasons To Invest In Employee Training

Training and developing your employees is critical to the future success of your organization and the horticulture industry at large. Here are five reasons why your employees are worth the effort.

Read More
BeeSmart

July 21, 2016

How You Can Get Involved In Research

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) supports scientific research and students for the advancement of the horticultural industry.

Read More
Luxflora Flower Run

July 20, 2016

First-Ever Flower Run Was A Big Success, Luxflora Says

Kicking off Cultivate’16 on Sunday, July 10, Luxflora’s first annual 5K saw nearly 150 participants racing through the picturesque Scioto Audubon Park in Columbus under clear blue skies and perfect conditions. It was a great way to start the week, participants said. Congratulations to the winners of the first-ever Flower Run: First Place: Jacob Griffith Gardner Second Place: Mike Goyette Third Place: Jack Ford The top three winners — and all of the Flower Run participants — were showered with flower petals when they crossed the finish line, making for a colorful and fragrant finish to an invigorating experience. “Personally, I would consider it a grand success,” says Luxflora President Rebecca Lusk. “The overall mood was fantastic, from start to finish. There were many high fives and group hugs, numerous duo phone selfies and postings to social media, while participants enjoyed their bananas and bottled water donated by Experience Columbus. Most […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Workers

July 23, 2016

5 Reasons To Invest In Employee Training

Training and developing your employees is critical to the future success of your organization and the horticulture industry at large. Here are five reasons why your employees are worth the effort.

Read More
BeeSmart

July 21, 2016

How You Can Get Involved In Research

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) supports scientific research and students for the advancement of the horticultural industry.

Read More
Luxflora Flower Run

July 20, 2016

First-Ever Flower Run Was A Big Success, Luxflora Says

Kicking off Cultivate’16 on Sunday, July 10, Luxflora’s first annual 5K saw nearly 150 participants racing through the picturesque Scioto Audubon Park in Columbus under clear blue skies and perfect conditions. It was a great way to start the week, participants said. Congratulations to the winners of the first-ever Flower Run: First Place: Jacob Griffith Gardner Second Place: Mike Goyette Third Place: Jack Ford The top three winners — and all of the Flower Run participants — were showered with flower petals when they crossed the finish line, making for a colorful and fragrant finish to an invigorating experience. “Personally, I would consider it a grand success,” says Luxflora President Rebecca Lusk. “The overall mood was fantastic, from start to finish. There were many high fives and group hugs, numerous duo phone selfies and postings to social media, while participants enjoyed their bananas and bottled water donated by Experience Columbus. Most […]

Read More

July 19, 2016

Do You Grow Young Plants? Only 4 Days Left To Take Our …

If your operation produces plugs or liners for wholesale growers, please take a few minutes to participate in Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Young Plant Grower Survey. We know you are very busy and we value your time and input. This survey should only take a few minutes. Greenhouse Grower’s Young Plant Grower Survey has played a key role in building our Top 20 Young Plant Growers list over the years. The information helps us zero in on trends taking shape and the challenges you’re facing as young plant growers. If you have any questions about this survey or you are not the right contact for this at your operation, please email me at [email protected], or please forward the survey link to the appropriate person. We would like to wrap up this survey by July 25, so please take it soon! Thank you in advance for your participation. We value your opinion! » […]

Read More

July 9, 2016

Market The Experience Of Gardening, Minus The Fuss

Greenhouse Grower editor Laura Drotleff says the industry should promote plants and gardening in bite-size chunks that help consumers build skills.

Read More
Grower Education

July 7, 2016

Two Industry Veterans Discuss How To Meet The Challenge…

Two industry players have a conversation on how we can deliver the level of grower education needed to address complex issues associated with production practices and pest management strategies.

Read More
Briscoe White, Growers Exchange

July 6, 2016

The Grower’s Exchange Unlocks The Secret to E-Commerce

In the Internet era, Briscoe and Kenan White knew they had to adapt or die and specialize to survive. Here’s how they took The Grower’s Exchange online.

Read More
Brie Arthur

July 6, 2016

5 Can’t-Miss Events To Watch For At Farwest 2016

Whether it’s classes on biocontrols and gardening trends, or networking opportunities in and around the trade show floor, there’s plenty happening at Farwest 2016 in Portland, OR, in August.

Read More
'Violets Pride' from Week's Roses Downton Abbey Garden Rose Collection

July 6, 2016

6 Key Insights From The Generations Of Flowers Study

Being local and offering expert recommendations are hidden opportunities in the floral business. This was one of six insights during a recent webinar analyzing the Generations of Flowers study from the Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment.

Read More
Joe Lamp'l

July 1, 2016

Gardening Personality Joe Lamp’l Will Be Keynote Speake…

Lamp’l, who hosts the PBS series “Growing a Greener World,” will discuss effective ways to build your business and keep your customers.

Read More
Cannabis states 2016

July 1, 2016

Adult Use Of Cannabis On The Ballot In 2016

25 states have legalized cannabis and public opinion is increasingly positive. Here’s where things may be headed as we move toward the fall elections.

Read More
Robert Conrad, Ball Seed Technology Research Manager

June 27, 2016

Ball Premier Lab Wins Medal Of Excellence Award For Its…

Over the past 30 years, the Ball Premier Lab has set the standard for high-quality seed in the industry, earning it Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Medal Of Excellence for Industry Achievement, for its dedication to advancing seed and helping growers improve their margins.

Read More
North Creek Nurseries lower trials

June 24, 2016

North Creek Nurseries Is A Finalist For 2016 Operation …

North Creek Nurseries in Landenberg, PA, is one of three finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year award and winner of the Excellence In Sustainable Production award for 2016.

Read More
Vic Frey, Kurt Weiss Greenhouses Feature

June 23, 2016

Vic Frey Named A Finalist For 2016 Head Grower Of The Y…

Vic Frey, a finalist for the 2016 Head Grower of the Year and recipient of the 2016 Excellence In Production award, was always willing to trial and experiment with the latest technology. He loved the constant change in this industry, and turned every opportunity into a teaching moment.

Read More
Albert Grimm, Jefferys Greenhouses

June 19, 2016

Albert Grimm Named A Finalist For 2016 Head Grower Of T…

Grimm, winner of Greenhouse Grower's Excellence in Outreach and Leadership award, is always willing to listen, continuously learn, and improve. He is a role model and empowers his employees to strive for excellence.

Read More
Practical Software Grower Vertical

June 18, 2016

Practical Software Solutions Increases Accessibility, E…

Practical Software will demonstrate Grower Vertical, its customizable and scalable enterprise management system for the horticulture industry, at Cultivate’16 in July.

Read More
Ornamental kale field at Sunlet Nursery

June 17, 2016

Sunlet Nursery Named As Finalist For 2016 Operation Of …

Sunlet Nursery in Fallbrook, CA, is one of three finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year award and winner of the Excellence In Community Leadership award for 2016.

Read More
The-Capitol

June 14, 2016

Fate Of H-2B Program A Hot Topic On Capitol Hill This W…

Following a Senate hearing on the economic impact of the H-2B Program, the House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to take up its own version of a funding bill this week.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]