Soilless Substrate Project Update

Ernie NeffResearch

By Jeb Fields

(Editor’s Note: A previous Citrus Industry article described a Soilless Substrate Science project led by Jeb Fields, assistant professor and Extension specialist at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. The article noted that citrus growers are beginning to explore the potential of soilless culture. This is an update to that article.)

Initially we had envisioned a physical North American Substrates Summit, where growers and suppliers could gather and discuss all things substrates. We wanted to discuss how the substrate world is changing as we move into the future, and how more specialty crop sectors are slowly transitioning to soilless culture.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic forced us to change our plans quite dramatically. Since we were not allowed to host a large group nor would most of our members be able to travel, we decided to take a different course of action. As such, we devised a three-phase online “summit” to serve as a North American needs assessment for the soilless substrate industry and growers. This consisted of an online mass grower survey which was quite successful. The results from this survey informed the regional grower listening sessions, which were completed in December.

We are still analyzing the data from the survey and the grower listening sessions and planning to upload findings to our website when they are completed. Additionally, we plan to publish the results and provide reports to all stakeholders.

The third phase, which involves the substrate industry, is just beginning. We are working with a diverse group representing the substrate industry (suppliers, processors, distributors, etc.) to assess the future of the industry from a supplier perspective. We are identifying research needs, future concerns, impending issues and upcoming challenges and opportunities in regards to suppliers. The goal is to compare and contrast the needs to formulate an all-inclusive needs assessment for soilless culture.

Our initial findings are very exciting, and I can’t wait to share them with the stakeholders in the coming months. That being said, part of the project’s success requires non-bias from participants; as such we cannot share any findings until the conclusion of the summit. What I can share is that we were blown away with the support we have received from specialty crop growers and allied suppliers across the continent. We have had a very successful phase I and II and expect the same from Phase III.

Moreover, the citrus industry has provided a plethora of information and has been identified as one of the primary specialty crops that will be supported through this project. Growers have been very supportive of the project and there is a wonderful opportunity to support citrus growers and stakeholders with this continued project of “Ensuring the future success of North American specialty crops through soilless substrate science.”

Jeb Fields, assistant professor and Extension specialist at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.

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