Surveying North American Specialty Crop Growers' Current Use of Soilless Substrates and Future Research and Education Needs

Abstract

Many specialty crop growers are transitioning high-value crops from in-ground production to soilless culture due to the diminishing availability of fumigants, increasing pest pressure, extreme weather, and the need for flexible production practices. The objective of this study was to determine the research and educational needs of specialty crop growers who are transitioning to soilless substrates. North American growers were surveyed using an online instrument that incorporated Likert-type statement matrices, open-ended questions, and demographic questions. Additionally, two virtually led focus groups were conducted to further expand upon the quantitative findings with descriptive data. Respondents indicated the most important factors in considering whether to adopt soilless substrates were improving, managing, and reducing overall plant quality, disease management, and crop loss, respectively. The most important research needs were understanding the effects of substrates on crop quality and uniformity, fertilizer management, and economic costs and benefits/return on investment. In both the grower survey and focus groups, crop quality and uniformity were among the highest-scored responses. Food safety, disease and pest management, consumer perception, substrate disposal-related issues, transportation, and return-on-investment were also identified as important factors when considering soilless substrates.

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Citation
Fields, J.S.; Owen, J.S., Jr.; Lamm, A.; Altland, J.; Jackson, B.; Oki, L.; Samtani, J.B.; Zheng, Y.; Criscione, K.S. Surveying North American Specialty Crop Growers' Current Use of Soilless Substrates and Future Research and Education Needs. Agriculture 2023, 13, 1727.