Greenhouse Product News

June 2020

The business magazine for commercial growers

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Page 15 of 44

GREENHOUSE PRODUCT NEWS 15 DUETS using a flood and drain system. Depending on the plug tray density choosing one cultivar over the other has consequences in terms of disease control, crop time and harvest quality. Another message you have for growers focuses on the impact seed quality has on their day to day production and operational profitability. What is the challenge you see growers wrestling with? Michelle: I work with a lot of reputable seed companies. These companies follow legal requirements for seed in the United States. When you purchase seed, they come in a bag with a seed tag. That tag is regulated by the Federal Seed Act. It requires that companies provide accurate information about the kind of seed, the lot number, the purity, the germination rate, the amount of hard seed, inert seed, weed seed and when the seed was tested. If the information provided is not accurate, then the grower has legal ramifications. Seeds are an important input into any farming system. They are what turn into the plants you sell. High- quality seeds will result in high- quality plants. Low-quality seeds could result in minor problems, like lower quality produce. But there is also risk of serious problems. Seeds can carry and transmit diseases and pathogens. They can lower the quality of produce that comes from your farm, but they can also have longer lasting and more expensive impacts. Infected seed could contaminate an entire system. The seed could bring a disease into your operation, but if it is mechanically transmitted as well, you could keep re-infecting the operation with contaminated equipment. This could require shutting down the entire operation and disinfecting it before starting over with new seeds. Also, when you purchase seed online from an unfamiliar company and you don't know the source you don't know where the seed is coming from. It may or may not meet the legal requirements spelled out in the Federal Seed Act. Peter: You raise several valid points that are not tied to any particular production system. Agronomic crops, vegetable crops, outdoor, greenhouse, indoor vertical farm ... as far as seed quality goes, most of the growers reading this understand that we get what we pay for. You mentioned above that you work with reputable seed companies. Traditional greenhouse growers, growers I've worked with for many years, for the most part get what you're saying. I'm finding a new group of growers, those entering CEA production with no horticultural experience, who are vulnerable to the pitfalls we're discussing. Next, I understand one of your recurring observations is poor design and execution of grower trials. This topic hits close to home for me, several of my colleagues and I have been sounding this alarm for some time. Tell us more about your experience. Michelle: I work primarily with controlled environment agriculture, more specifically with vertical farmers that operate plant factories that mostly grow leafy greens. They are largely focused on the sensors and the technology that make these operations run. With the right tools, many think that farming can be automated, especially when the environment is controlled. I was drawn to this space because of my seed background and the fact that the environments are fixed. If nature and nurture both affect the final product that comes out of these systems and the nurture (the environment) is fixed, then the power of nature (genetics) is much higher. By helping farmers pick the right genetics the growers can obtain higher yields or better produce at harvest. Peter: I'm with you but need to share an observation. I've been involved with several CEA projects in recent years, all led by individuals coming from the tech sector you cite. To date, I've been disappointed by their lack of appreciation for general crop culture, daily farm management and basic plant physiology. What I'm saying is that the nurture side of the equation, in my experience, extends beyond just the environment to include its management as well. I am confident that those who embrace the plant as well as tech will play key roles in leading us into the future. Proceed, how are you helping your growers understand trial design and execution? Michelle: To capitalize on the fixed environment, you need to run variety trials to figure out what works and what doesn't. Before you can start the trials, growers must understand their systems. They should ask: how far apart are the trays, is it a deep-water culture or an NFT channel, how much blue light is there, and what is the temperature inside? All of these will impact what can grow. Then you need to decide what the most important characteristics are. Do you want to maximize yield? Do you want to maximize flavor? Do you want to harvest as quickly as possible? As growers answer these questions, they can try different seeds and see how they perform in the system. Good data is key. What was the germination rate? How long did germination take? What did the leaves look like? How tall did the plants grow? Without setting goals and collecting data, it's impossible to objectively compare different varieties. The beauty of an indoor system is the amount of control you have. Many farmers don't leverage this by running controlled experiments and collecting data to feed into future trials. Every detail that you can capture is helpful. For example, growers report that growing kale on the bottom racks and basil on the top has higher yields than a full stack of either crop. Peter: Amen to a grower's version of the scientific method. Ask good questions, run a good, controlled trial, collect good data and make informed decisions that will contribute to profitability. Michelle, thanks again for spending this time with us. Figure 1. Trial of pak choi showing traditional cultivar on left and compact cultivar on right. Quietaire's Angle Flow: Aluminum or Galvanized. Designed to maximize efficiency. Quietaire's HAF18: Affordable option to move air through your greenhouse. Quietaire's Stainless Steel Evaporative Cooling System: No sump required. Replacement cooling pads also available. Serving the greenhouse industry for over 75 years with prompt service and durable, low maintenance and quality ventilation products. RELIABLE VENTILATION EQUIPMENT Family-Owned Since 1937 Quick Lead Time! [email protected] 866-228-9421 Fax 713-228-9425 505 North Hutcheson Houston, TX 77003

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