Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Wooster, Ohio » Application Technology Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #393740

Research Project: Sustainable Production and Pest Management Practices for Nursery, Greenhouse, and Protected Culture Crops

Location: Application Technology Research

Title: A glimpse into the future of soilless substrates

item Owen Jr, James - Jim
item FIELDS, JEB - Louisiana Agriculture Experiment Station
item Altland, James
item LAMM, ALEXA - University Of Georgia
item JACKSON, BRIAN - North Carolina State University

Submitted to: Growertalks
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/15/2022
Publication Date: 5/1/2022
Citation: Owen Jr, J.S., Fields, J.S., Altland, J.E., Lamm, A., Jackson, B.E. 2022. A glimpse into the future of soilless substrates. Growertalks. 86(1):52-53.

Interpretive Summary: A conclusion to a three-part series on the current state of soilless substrate science in which we ponder the challenges and opportunities the future may hold as well as the rewards we may reap from revising the production practices of engineered soilless substrates, and critically evaluate the path forward.

Technical Abstract: The consensus of our 2020 industry survey and post-interview analysis of specialty crop growers and substrate suppliers revealed that regardless of crop, consistently available and affordable soilless substrate components are needed to create custom growing mixes. Crop-specific substrate blends create a pathogen-free root zone and can provide equal or improved crop performance as well as address producer and consumer concerns around environmental impact. The perception surrounding perlite and peat is that they are the “benchmark” to create significantly “better” substrates, but that they are “energy” intensive, environmentally unsustainable, and face continuing supply challenges. Producers desire a consistent supply of substrate “on-demand” and “on-time” from a loyal substrate supplier who can also provide technical support when needed. Therefore, the horticulture industry must progress by “closing the loop” of resources for containers, media, fertilizer, and water, enabling the protection of natural resources while producing plants that survive in the marketplace and provide societal benefit with a reduced environmental impact. Research findings remain mixed regarding the cost implications of industry firms acting sustainably, it is uncertain if these actions will increase the cost of plants and other products.