Texas A&M AgriLife is soliciting contributions to farming in a controlled environment

Developments in Texas A&M AgriLife’s urban farming effort could pave the way for expanded research opportunities and advances in controlled environment agricultural production.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research recently received a US Department of Agriculture grant that could direct federal investment into controlled agricultural production in Texas and the United States

The grant-funded Urban Farming Advisory Committee will hold its first meeting on December 5 to coincide with the Fourth Annual Conference on Urban Farming: Controlled Environments on December 6 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas.

Azlan Zahid, Ph.D., works on a controlled environment farming project at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas. (Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife by Sam Craft)

Texas A&M AgriLife scientists at the Dallas Center involved in the fellowship and conference are Azlan Zahid, Ph.D., AgriLife Research Assistant Professor of Controlled Environment Agricultural Engineering in the Department of Bio and Agricultural Engineering; and Joe Masabni, Ph.D., gardener of AgriLife Extension; Genhua Niu, Ph.D., AgriLife Research Professor of Urban Agriculture; and Daniel Leskovar, Ph.D., the Dallas center’s interim director and professor of plant physiology and plant sciences, all in the Department of Horticultural Sciences.

Grant to identify priorities in controlled environment farming
Zahid said the $50,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is a planning grant aimed at identifying research priorities within controlled environmental agriculture.

The Advisory Committee meeting and conference helps with planning and prioritization.

Zahid said the first step of the grant is to establish an advisory committee made up of growers and industry representatives who will help AgriLife Research identify research needs.

But the grant will also fund online surveys and meetings aimed at identifying commercially viable hydroponic green foliage plants and measuring growers’ interest in introducing new technology to their operations in controlled environments.

“We want to develop a comprehensive research plan based on the challenges and needs of the stakeholders,” he said. “There is a lot of interest in controlled environmental production and urban agriculture, and this is the first step in developing a plan and generating data to justify various research projects in this emerging field.”

Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists work in one of the state-of-the-art greenhouses at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas. (Texas A&M AgriLife Photo by Mark Herboth)

The conference welcomes experienced and new breeders
The fourth annual Urban Agriculture: Controlled Environment Conference will be led by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists and the AgriLife Research faculty.

Masabni said new and potential controlled environment growers and hydroponic growers, as well as enthusiasts of all experience levels, are encouraged to participate. Register to attend the conference in person or online at https://tx.ag/UrbanAgConference.

Manufacturers, industry insiders like Hoogendoorn and Eden Green Technology, and researchers from academic institutions like Cornell University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Arizona and the University of California, Davis will participate in the discussions, Masabni said.

The registration fee includes a packed lunch, catered dinner and reception. A tour of the center’s greenhouse facilities will demonstrate hydroponic and aquaponic systems in production. Contact Masabni at [email protected] for more details.

“The timing of the grant and the conference was perfect,” said Masabni. “This Advisory Committee meeting and conference creates a good opportunity for growers and industry to network with academics in the field and to identify the challenges and opportunities in urban farming.”

Interest in controlled environmental agriculture is growing
Controlled ambient vegetable production is a booming area in the US, but the domestic industry is lagging far behind due to a lack of research investment, Zahid said.

He said the USDA is looking at urban controlled environmental production as a potential way to address food deserts head-on, avoid supply chain disruptions and reduce carbon footprint by eliminating logistical steps between farms and the market, while enhancing nutritional values ​​with harvest-ready produce for local consumers are improved.

But there are challenges related to controlling temperature, humidity, light spectrum and carbon dioxide, Zahid said. Working with people who are familiar with the pitfalls and potential of controlled environment farming can help steer the field towards maximizing the latter.

“These discussions, meetings and surveys will help us identify needs and build a collaborative network to develop a systems-based approach,” he said. “There will be different challenges for the industry and individuals, different priorities and different challenges based on things like location, say South Texas versus North Texas. But this will help us develop a research plan, prioritize projects and submit proposals.”

For more informations:
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension