OptimIA is helping VF grow more economically

OptimIA is helping VF grow more economically

OptimIA is a research and outreach project aimed at offering production and economic information that is useful and can be applied to the indoor farm industry.

The concept of OptimIA originated when Erik Runkle at Michigan State University, Chieri Kubota at Ohio State University and Cary Mitchell at Purdue University were involved in an LED lighting project focused on greenhouse applications.

“It was getting to the end of the project and we asked ourselves what is the next frontier of lighting and growing,” said Runkle, who is a horticulture professor at Michigan State. “We came to the realization that the greatest opportunity and need for information was managing the environment for vertical farming production. We saw the next frontier as growing indoors and the need for research-based information. The name OptimIA came from our focus on optimizing indoor agriculture–Opti for optimizing and IA for indoor agriculture.”

In 2015 the three researchers submitted a USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant proposal for funding that would focus on lighting, but would include other aspects of growing indoors.

“We went through the proposal submission process for several years before the USDA approved the grant for the OptimIA project,” Runkle said. “The proposal that was finally approved was to study the aerial environment as well as economics for indoor leafy greens. The aerial environment refers to air circulation, humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, light and temperature. Some of our team members are also studying root zone management of hydroponic crops using additional funding.”

USDA awarded $2.4 million to the OptimIA project in September 2019, which was scheduled to be completed in four years. Runkle is the project director with the funding split between six researchers. In addition to Runkle, Kubota and Mitchell, the OptimIA team consists of Roberto Lopez, horticulture professor at Michigan State, Simone Valle de Souza‬, ag economist at Michigan State, and Murat Kacira, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at University of Arizona. Besides these co-principal investigators, other collaborators on the project include Chris Peterson, ag economist emeritus at Michigan State, Jennifer Boldt, a research horticulturist at USDA-ARS, and Nadia Sabeh, president and founder of Dr. Greenhouse Inc., which specializes in the design of HVAC systems for indoor plant environments.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Focused on the needs of indoor growing

The OptimIA project objectives were based on feedback from commercial vertical farms.

“Erik, Cary and I visited several commercial vertical farms before we started this project,” said Chieri Kubota, who is director of the Ohio Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at Ohio State University. “We received feedback from growers as to what to work on using USDA funding.”

Continue reading.

Note: The OptimIA project, which was funded by USDA in Sept. 2019, is focused on the study of the aerial environment and economics for producing indoor leafy greens. Photo by Rosemary Brandt, College of Ag and Life Sciences, Univ. of Ariz.



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