WOOSTER, Ohio — There’s a way to grow crops that’s all wet, in a good way, and you can learn about it in northeast Ohio soon.
Registration is open for The Ohio State University’s 2018 Greenhouse Management Workshop, which this year will focus on hydroponics, a booming Ohio industry that grows crops in water without soil.
The event is Feb. 8-9 at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), part of the Wooster campus of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), about 60 miles south of Cleveland.
‘Exponential’ increase in Ohio hydroponics
“Ohio has been exponentially increasing its area of hydroponic greenhouses over the past two to three years,” said Chieri Kubota, professor in CFAES’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science and a workshop organizer.
She said the event is for anyone wanting to learn how to produce food hydroponically, including growers, teachers, university faculty, and greenhouse technology manufacturers and vendors.
Participants are expected from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, among others, said Peter Ling, the workshop’s main organizer and an associate professor in CFAES’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
Ling has organized the annual greenhouse workshop since 1999.
Benefits to food production, water
Hydroponic crops are grown one of two ways: rooted in trays floating in recirculating water full of nutrients; or rooted in an inert growing medium, such as coco coir (coconut shell fibers) or perlite, that is irrigated with nutrient-rich water.
The benefits of such systems, Kubota said, include:
- Less nutrient runoff, a consideration especially in northwest Ohio where phosphorus runoff from crop fields is one cause of Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms.
- Much lower water use — some 10 to 20 times lower compared to conventional field production.
- Higher yields and quality because the crops are grown under ideal conditions.
- Much less or even no need for pesticides.
What and why Ohio is growing
Part of Ohio’s recent growth in hydroponics is due to three major Canadian greenhouse growers — Mucci Farms, Golden Fresh Farms and NatureFresh Farms, all based in southwestern Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie — building new facilities in the state, Kubota said.
But even before that, Ohio’s hydroponic crop production was on the rise, more than doubling from 2009 to 2014 — from about 890,000 pounds to 1.82 million pounds — according to U.S. Department of Agriculture censuses.
Ohio’s hydroponic crops include tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and strawberries.
2 days, 11 sessions, tours
During the workshop, 11 sessions will explore topics in the categories of greenhouse fundamentals, crop-specific management, integrated pest management (IPM) and technical matters.
The greenhouse fundamental sessions will feature Kubota, Ling and other CFAES experts working in various areas of controlled environment agriculture. Their topics will include lighting basics, managing humidity and controlling environments for optimum outcomes.
In the crop-specific management sessions, Kubota and Mark Kroggel, lecturer in CFAES’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, will focus on strawberries, lettuce and tomatoes.
Sally Miller, professor in CFAES’s Department of Plant Pathology, and Luis Canas, associate professor in CFAES’s Department of Entomology, will cover basics, practices and plant diseases in the IPM sessions.
The technical sessions will feature:
- Paul Brentlinger of Lodi-based CropKing on business plans.
- Beth Scheckelhoff of CFAES’s Ohio State University Extension outreach arm and Food Innovation Center on food safety basics for greenhouse crops.
- A grower talk by Glen and Lois Smucker of Orrville’s Glen Smucker Farms.
- Research updates by Kubota; Ling; Canas; Miller; Uttara Samarakoon, assistant professor with the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (Ohio State ATI), CFAES’s two-year degree-granting unit on the Wooster campus; and Jordan Clark, assistant professor in Ohio State’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering.
Also on the agenda will be tours of area commercial greenhouses and of the campus’s greenhouse and research facilities.
Top U.S. researchers
CFAES’s hydroponic research capacity is a “gem” that has “not been widely known,” Kubota said. OARDC and the college as a whole have a full range of scientists studying greenhouse hydroponics, including in the areas of crop physiology, engineering, IPM, plant pathology and food safety, she said.
“No other land-grant university in the U.S. has this complete set of expertise,” Kubota said.
Ohio State ATI, for its part, offers greenhouse and nursery management among its 30 majors, including a new two-year greenhouse engineering technology specialization that is the only such program in the U.S.
How to register
Registration for the workshop is $125 by Jan. 25, $150 after Jan. 25, and includes continental breakfasts, lunches and tour transportation.
Participants will be eligible for continuing education credits from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Office of Indiana State Chemist. Credits from Pennsylvania and Kentucky have been applied for but not been confirmed yet. Check fabe.osu.edu/greenhouse for details and updates.