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Michigan State University research

US: Lettuce research and pathogen control are paramount

American leafy greens growers, including romaine growers, are exploring food safety mitigation for lettuce and other greens grown in open fields. However, the USDA has also given $2.7 million to Michigan State University for research into indoor growing techniques.

MSU’s research project on indoor lettuce
A multi-university squad of horticulturists, engineers and agricultural economists are set to work for four years on the study of the indoor production of leafy greens. In addition to the $2.7 million from the federal government the researchers have industry grants bringing the project total to $5.4 million.

Most often consumed raw without a kill step, leafy greens such as lettuce present production challenges outdoors, leading to interest in growing these specialty crops hydroponically in controlled environments, according to a statement from the MSU team. However there is little information on whether this is economically viable.

“Indoor farming, which is also known as vertical farming, using LEDs has a lot of advantages,” according to a statement from Erik Runkle, the MSU horticulture professor who is the official grant recipient. It takes much less space, there is more efficient use of water and nutrients, production is year-round, and there are virtually no pesticides. But there is little science-based information about best growing practices, and very little economic data around indoor farming.”

More research into how and why romaine lettuce and other leafy greens are subject to contamination in open growing fields is also in the works via industry and government cooperation. The organizations refer to the work with the Food and Drug Administration as notable.

“We absolutely must know more about why and how our products are being exposed to pathogens in the environment. A few notable projects with support from the U.S. FDA are underway to monitor and collect data in Arizona and California growing regions,” the LGMAs reported.

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