Soilless substrate science: a North American needs assessment to steer soilless substrate research into the future

J.S. Fields, J. Owen, A. Lamm, J.E. Altland, B.E. Jackson, Y. Zheng, L. Oki, K. Fontenot, J. Samtani, B. Campbell
There is an increasing interest in transitioning conventionally soil-grown specialty crops (i.e. fruit, vegetables, ornamentals) to soilless culture. However, growers are often not fully aware of the opportunities, challenges, or measures to define success in adapting specialty crops to soilless systems. A North American needs assessment for soilless substrate science was conducted. The assessment consisted of three individual phases: 1) a North American grower survey with over 290 responses, 2) two online listening-sessions with 12 growers representing the diversity of North American specialty crops, and 3) one-on-one interviews with 12 substrate suppliers, processors, and distributors. The goal of this project was to develop a holistic understanding of grower and supplier needs with projections of increased substrate use in the coming years. The respondents were from a broad scope of growers, with 41% of respondents growing vegetables, 40% small fruit, 35% ornamentals, 30% tree fruit and nut, and 12% medicinal crops. It was determined that many high value crops (small fruits in particular) are transitioning into soilless culture, primarily as a means of disease control, have crops yield or finish earlier, and improving crop quality. Knowledge of the efficient use of resources, particularly in regard to water and fertilizer, and economic return on investment were identified by the participants as boundaries to adoption. Supplier interviews indicated that a transfer of trusted knowledge is imperative, and growers need support and evidence to initiate major changes. Suppliers believe that we must identify localized materials that are consistent, sustainable, cost-effective, and recyclable to support growers. North American specialty crop production is facing a transition period, as an influx of crops begin to transition to soilless culture. Connecting researchers, suppliers, and growers together to a new level can support all industries as we rise to the challenge of combating climate change and ensuring global food security.
Fields, J.S., Owen, J., Lamm, A., Altland, J.E., Jackson, B.E., Zheng, Y., Oki, L., Fontenot, K., Samtani, J. and Campbell, B. (2021). Soilless substrate science: a North American needs assessment to steer soilless substrate research into the future. Acta Hortic. 1317, 313-318
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2021.1317.36
education, fruit crops, grower survey, ornamentals, production methods, quality control, specialty crops, substrate uniformity, vegetables

Acta Horticulturae