Vertical farming for beginner growers – Controlled Environment Agriculture (NEMALI Lab)

Vertical farming for beginner growers

Purdue University will develop research-based information for profitable indoor or vertical farming and train beginner farmers and entrepreneurs with best practices through effective extension education. Indoor farming involves growing leafy greens in vertically stacked layers in a building or warehouse to produce more food per unit area and make fresh food readily available to consumers in urban areas.  As energy cost for artificial lighting is a major operational cost and making observations on plants in different vertical layers that are above eye level can be challenging, the proposed research will develop best lighting sources and camera based monitoring of crop growth and nutritional requirements for increased productivity in indoor farming. In addition, the project will educate beginner farmers and entrepreneurs with best practices for profitable indoor farming using extension methods including workshops, field visits and conferences.

Research: Two experiments will be conducted: Exp. 1: Little information exists on the suitability and profitability of different lighting sources (Light Emitting Diodes or Compact Fluorescent Lamps) for different crop species in indoor farming.  Effect of different lighting sources on productivity, nutritional quality and profitability for different crop species will be tested under indoor farming conditions. Exp. 2: Plants in an indoor farm are grown in vertically stacked layers that are sometimes 30-40 feet tall.  It is challenging to make observations on plants manually in vertically stacked layers.  Technique of using relatively cheap cameras with image processing software to visually monitor crop growth in different vertically stacked layers of an indoor form will be developed.

Extension:  The purpose is to increase the knowledge level, competitiveness and profits for beginner farmers and entrepreneurs in Indiana involved in indoor farming by transferring research based region-specific information through extension education. The extension program comprises of three components: (i) In-depth class-room style hands-on training in the form of workshops to 100-150 participant at the Purdue University campus on best production practices and marketing strategies, (ii) Organizing field visits for participants to select Indoor farms in Indianapolis and/or nearby urban areas, and (iii) Transferring knowledge to large groups by presenting research-based information at conferences that are organized at different locations in the state (Illiana Vegetable Growers Symposium, Indiana Horticulture Congress and  Michiana Vegetable Growers Symposium).

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