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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Wooster, Ohio » Application Technology Research » Research » Research Project #434639

Research Project: Resilient Plants: Production, Shipping and Postharvest Techniques to Maximize Sales and Sell-Through While Minimizing Inputs (including labor)

Location: Application Technology Research

Project Number: 5082-21000-018-12-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 1, 2018
End Date: Aug 31, 2019

Objective:
1. Develop improved and realistic financial costing models for greenhouse floriculture production, including opportunities for improved labor efficiency and automation, and benchmark key performance indicators for young plant production. 2. Develop innovative root zone management strategies for improved consumer performance, including newly available polymer-coated fertilizers, modeling and 3D imaging of root systems and substrates to analyze substrate types and irrigation strategies, and managing the balance between water and air for vigorous root growth.

Approach:
A financial and resource benchmarking project will be undertaken to track current crop losses, key performance indicators, and sell-through in young plant and finished plant production. Survey methodology will be used to collect these data. Additional in-depth studies will be undertaken on labor efficiency and automation for processes such as transplanting, grading, and shipping plants, using both survey and motion-capture methods. Spreadsheet and online tools will be generated for grower benchmarking, and the economic value on improved resilience will be quantified. Greenhouse and retail environment experiments will be run to evaluate options for providing improved post-production performance for the consumer from: Providing residual fertilizer in the container, Varying root substrate components and air/water characteristics, and irrigation practices. In-depth controlled research will be undertaken to quantify effects of air and water balance on root growth and root health, including use of CT scanning to visualize root growth and water/air distribution. Transplants will be produced in a vertical farming environment with sole-source LED lighting and economic profitability and plant quality will be compared against standard greenhouse production.