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Hydroponic production technology to be featured at workshop

July 17, 2019
Man looks at lettuce growing in a hydroponic greenhouse.

Krishna Nemali examines hydroponically grown lettuce in the horticulture and landscape architecture greenhouse at Purdue University. (Purdue University file photo)

Hydroponic agriculture is growing nationally at a rate of 3% to 4% per year. Current producers or those considering the use of hydroponics technology can get information on production and the latest technology at the fourth annual Greenhouse and Indoor Hydroponics Workshop.

The workshop will take place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 5 on the Purdue University campus and is sponsored by Purdue Extension, the university's Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.

Greenhouse and indoor hydroponics is an agricultural production method in which plants are grown in a nutrient solution instead of soil. Because growing occurs in an enclosed space, variables like nutrients, temperature and light can be better controlled while using fewer pesticides and insecticides and making better use of water resources. Crops can also be grown at different levels, which means a higher rate of production per unit area.

For states like Indiana, this means that suitable crops — mostly leafy greens like lettuce — can be grown year-round.

Workshop organizer Krishna Nemali, a Purdue assistant professor and a controlled environment agriculture Extension specialist, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans annually consume 10-15 pounds of leafy greens per person.

"If half of Indiana's population consumes salads or leafy greens once a week, that would be a value of several million dollars a year in lettuce," Nemali said. "We actually grow almost none here, which means we are importing it from other states like California, which means it isn't as fresh and we have no real idea of how it's grown. My goal is to train our growers to produce locally and bring more money to our growers.

"And then there is also something going on, primarily in urban areas, called the local food movement. People really want to know where their food is coming from. Was it grown in a safe way? Is it fresh? Is it healthy? Where and how is it grown? Locally and hydroponically grown leafy greens and vegetables are attractive to urban consumers."

During the workshop, morning sessions will take place in the Deans of Agriculture Auditorium at Pfendler Hall. Topics will include best varieties, nutrient recipes, production systems, artificial lighting and temperature needs for hydroponic lettuce produced in greenhouses and indoors, along with information on selling and marketing crops and food safety. From 12:15-12:45 p.m. there also will be a meeting of the Indiana Hydroponic Growers Association.

Later in the day, attendees will tour Purdue's latest state-of-the art greenhouse and indoor hydroponic facilities and take part in hands-on activities. They also will see where hydroponic research is taking place at the university and talk with researchers.

Nemali said there are currently 200-300 hydroponic producers in Indiana, a number he would like to see grow dramatically in the next 5-10 years. To that end, the workshop is geared to help producers get a grasp on the technology involved in hydroponic production and make connections to other producers and the expertise Purdue has to offer.

"The grower needs to know so much," he said. "There are lots of farmers that would like to get into hydroponics, but they lack the knowledge to do so. We want them to come to campus to see what we are doing at Purdue and to know that we are here to work with them hand in hand and offer support."

Registration for the workshop closes on Aug. 20 and is available online at https://tinyurl.com/yxm5ttb9. There is a $15 fee to cover the cost of lunch and snacks that will be provided during the day.

Those with additional questions can contact Nemali at knemali@purdue.edu or Lori Jolly-Brown, Extension events and communications coordinator for the horticulture and landscape architecture department, at 765-494-1296, ljollybr@purdue.edu

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