MSU’s Barickman at head of increasing lettuce yields for Flora company

A Mississippi State University scientist is partnering with a local lettuce producer and significantly improving yields and business.

Salad Days, LLC, a local greenhouse hydroponics salad producer in Flora owned by Jamie Redmond and his wife Leigh Bailey, has seen a 70 percent increase in yields and a 40 percent increase in profits in one year as a result of a partnership with Mississippi State.

After noticing decreased yields and a loss of nitrogen and potassium in their water used for the nutrient recycling system, Redmond reached out to Casey Barickman, associate research professor in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at MSU’s North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona. Collaborating with the scientist for various projects has greatly benefitted the farm operation, Redmond said.         

Barickman set out to see if manipulating the electroconductivity—or concentration of mineral elements—of the nutrient solutions during each season would increase lettuce yields.

Seasonal change
“The purpose of this research is to determine how increasing levels of electroconductivity, yearly seasonal changes, and differences in lettuce varieties affects yields, biomass accumulation, and polyphenol concentrations, which are antioxidants found in plant-based foods,” Barickman said.

While greenhouses can regulate temperature and moisture to some extent to allow for a year-round growing season, outcomes still depend on external temperature and light. Barickman and the Salad Days team changed the electroconductivity of their hydroponic solution to combat seasonal changes in temperature and moisture.

“Specifically, in the spring and winter, growers will want to increase their electroconductivity so that the lettuce plants have access to available nutrients during periods of cold, cloudy weather.” Barickman said. “In the summer, when sunshine and hot days are abundant, lettuce plants use more water. So, lowering the electroconductivity will prevent the plants from having abundant nutrients in the roots and leaf tissue, which can cause the tissues to burn or become severely damaged.”

Accessibility
Redmond said these changes significantly have increased production yield and crop quality.

“We ended up with a record output for what is usually the worst time of the year. Winter, with its short and usually cloudy days, is not the greenhouse grower’s friend. We do not have supplemental lighting in our building, so you can imagine how happy we’ve been with the changes,” Redmond said.

“Dr. Barickman looked, listened, watched and was hands-on in our greenhouse,” he said. “He is very easy to work with, and we are lucky that he is in Mississippi. MSU has a great team with specialists in many areas, and they are all accessible to local farmers. We are thankful for Dr. Barickman’s research and help.”

For more information:
Mississippi State University
www.msstate.edu 

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