Nutrien Ag Solutions recently added a new greenhouse in Biola, CA, close to its R&D department in Kerman, just outside of Fresno. Nutrien is a fertilizer company providing full-acre solutions.
The company aims to help growers to achieve the highest yields with the most sustainable solutions possible, offering a wide selection of products, including their proprietary brands, such as Loveland Products, Inc.®, Proven® Seed, and Dyna-Gro® Seed. The Nutrien brand was established in 2018 after Nutrien was formed through the merger of PotashCorp and Agrium.
Director of Research and Development John Breen at Nutrien played an integral role in the acquisition of its new Agra Tech greenhouse. John earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis and spent several years in Japan working in a global crop protection company. He has been with Nutrien for the past seven years and oversees its R&D efforts for crop protection, nutritionals, and adjuvants globally. “Our focus is on products that enhance sustainability for growers around the globe,” says Breen. “Nutrient use efficiency, reduction of greenhouse gases, enhanced soil health and soil function are among the types of products we are developing.”
Nutrien Ag facility in Biola, CA
The company already had an Agra Tech greenhouse in full operation when Breen was hired at Nutrien, so he was already familiar with the name. He described the importance of greenhouses in their R&D efforts. “Whenever we develop a product, we first test it in a laboratory, and then if it’s promising, we will take it to the greenhouse. If it still looks promising after that stage, we will subsequently take it to the field for more research. Having greenhouses is critical to our ability to develop products, and that’s why we rely on them to do our job.”
This doesn’t happen overnight, Breen said. “From the initial idea to the laboratory and on to the greenhouse can take approximately 2-3 years. In most cases, field research is the most time-consuming, which usually also takes 2-3 years. So, it’s roughly a 4–6-year process overall. Our goal is to develop multiple products and release 2-3 new ones every year."
Every experiment that Breen and his team perform in the greenhouse is designed specifically for the goals of that particular product. “For example, if it’s a nitrogen product, we will test our product versus standard nitrogen fertility and then with our enhanced product,” he said. “We compare the two treatments and use statistics to determine whether it’s better or not. We conduct research in corn, peppers, tomatoes, cotton, soybeans; those are the main ones we use. Sometimes we will measure other plant growth parameters as well, for example, plant nutrient content in the leaves or root proliferation.”
The company recently added two Agra Tech Solar Light greenhouses in order to keep the plants in two different environments—one of which to create a cool season and one warm season year-round.
Insect exclusion is vital for quality research
He said keeping the insects out was a huge deliverable for its new greenhouse, and Agra Tech knew how to achieve it. “It starts with the air intake on the fans that are enclosed in a screened-in enclosure so that no insects can enter the greenhouse even when the fans are on,” he said. “On the other side of the structure, the outlet fans are enclosed in a screened-in box. In addition, at the entrance of the greenhouse, there’s a vestibule which is pressurized to blow out, so that when you open the double door on the outside, the air blows out, which minimizes the number of insects that can fly in while the door is open.”
Working with Agra Tech’s Sales Engineer Jim Bergantz throughout the entire planning process was also a major plus, Breen said. “He was so professional and knowledgeable, he was great. Jim knows the industry and his company’s products very well and communicated well with us during every stage to make sure that we got exactly what we wanted for our application.”
Ag-Con Construction, Inc of San Jose, CA constructed the new greenhouses for Nutrien Ag Solutions seamlessly, and without drama, Breen explained. “They were meticulous, safe, and clean in everything they did for us,” he said. “We are extremely happy with Ag-Con. Ray Pound’s crew knew exactly what to do, and that’s why this state-of-the-art structure looks great.”