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Planting seeds of the future, new environment controlled ag program at Texas A&M

Posted at 8:55 PM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-20 01:53:01-05

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A new environment controlled ag program at Texas A&M is underway, teaching students how to use sustainable resources when it comes to agriculture.

“We have potato plants on top and lettuce plants with a couple of potato mixed in growing,” said Dr. Shuyang Zhen, assistant professor, Department of Horticultural Sciences.

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There’s a new course at Texas A&M showing students this very concept that could be the future of agriculture and farming, HORT 489 Hydroponics and Soilless Crop Production.

“Using this technology to grow food crops is relatively new, especially to commercialize,” said Dr. Zhen. “This technology, it has been around for five to ten years being used commercially to grow high value crops.”

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Dr. Zhen realized some fertilizers block plants and crops from receiving optimal nutrients.

“The hydroponics system you saw in the greenhouse, the roots are suspended or emerged in the nutrient solution,” said Dr. Zhen. “This one, they’re just hanging out in the air getting sprayed.”

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“Hydroponics is utilizing water as a medium to deliver nutrients to the root system,” said Jarred Lake, horticultural science student. “This is also using water, but hydroponics is submersed most if not all the time or with flood tables that like floods then drains out.”

Where does soil come in if plants and crops thrive off of water and nutrients?

“Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen so carbon dioxide plus water, none of that is soil,” said Lake. “The soil just holds it in place.”

With controlling its environment, she and her students can determine light exposure, plant feeding and overall growth.

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Because of the amount of energy required to power the LED lights for plant photosynthesis, this method will not replace open field production on crops.

“We can create an optimal cultivation environment so the plants can grow much faster, and they can also have better quality in terms of taste and nutritional value,” said Dr. Zhen.

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Students within the horticultural science program will have the opportunity of taking this environment controlled come this fall.

You can find the original AgriLife article here.