Neil Mattson is an Professor and Greenhouse Extension Specialist at Cornell University. He has an appointment in research, extension, and teaching. He researchers strategies to optimize floriculture and vegetable crop production while reducing energy, fertilizer, and water resources. He directs Cornell’s Controlled Environment Agriculture group which develops lighting and greenhouse control strategies to maximize hydroponic vegetable production.
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Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the poly greens podcast. I'm Joe Swartz from am hydro, along with Nick greens, the Nick greens grow team. And you know, we've talked about many different aspects of controlled environment. Agriculture and people are always talking about the specific technologies and undoubtedly lighting technology is really one of the hot topics it has been for a while.
Um, has some of the greatest technological advances and some of the potential biggest impacts on our CA production. So we're really lucky today to have Dr. Neil Madsen from Cornell university professor and greenhouses extension specialist. I'm also I'm co-founder and principal investigator for the glaze program, which he's going to hopefully tell us all about.
Um, and he's also the director of Cornell university's controlled environment, ag programs. We have a real heavy hitter today and. A real nice guy, someone I've known for a long time. So Neil, thanks so much for joining us today. And we look forward to hearing a little bit more about you. Thank you, Joe. And Nick, thank you so much for having me on.
And I was looking at your list of previous pod. That's an illustrious group of people that you've had, so I'm happy to now be among them. Well, thank you. We, we definitely, we, we want to bring people on who are. In the industry, but, but really doing things, making things happen. And that's why, you know, we've had so many great academic leaders like yourself, uh, gene and Murat growers, uh, Jenn mark technology specialists, like, uh, Kelly Ann Nicholson from auto grow.
So a lot of really great people and, and you're definitely, you know, one of the best in the business. So we're glad to hear. Tell us a little bit about how first you got in. I know, you know, you have a little bit of a similar background to myself coming from the farming community, but please tell us a little bit about, uh, your background and how you got to where you are.
Sure. Sure. Do you want me to start, uh, at the beginning on a farm in Minnesota? Why not. So I grew up a couple hours north of Minneapolis in the middle of nowhere in the lakes and woods, country of Minnesota. Um, I grew up on a family farm. Uh, the land was not great, so it used to be a dairy operation. When my dad was a kid, by the time I was a kid, um, there wasn't money in a small dairy, so it was a.
A cow calf operation, a beef operation. Um, and that was not our main income, but it was a great way of life. Uh, so my grandma in particular got me really interested into vegetable and flower gardening. Uh, so growing up, I was always pulling weeds in the garden and transplanting things and harvesting things.
Um, I was in four H so I'd bring things to the fair, to show off. So, so trying to get like the best quality. Produce that I could, do you want any prizes at the fairs? Oh yeah. So numerous grand champions. Uh, my family was well-known as a four, so in four H there was, uh, one of the entries was a vegetable collection.
You'd have to bring six vegetables. So, uh, some would be, and if they're a smaller things like beans, you need like 10 or 12. Perfect beans. They're tomatoes. Three to five perfect tomatoes. So yes, we would re routinely wind grand champions with that. It gets to bring them to the state fair. I've never seen any state fairs doing anything with hydroponics.
Oh, I've, uh, in past years I've visited, uh, more recently the New York state fair. Um, and from time to time in the horticulture building, they've had displays set up with hydroponics or aquaponics. Um, I am aware that the state fair in Texas has a greenhouse that is on site. Um, I know Chris Higgins could, uh, from, um, Hort Americas could talk a lot more about that.
Yeah, I think that's it. That would be a really great way to engage people. Uh, so I grew up rooted in, um, in like outdoor vegetable production and flower production, uh, and, um, didn't really get a chance to dabble in greenhouses until my master's degree. I always saw like growing up in a cold climate, I saw the value of a controlled environment.
So, um, so I went on to college, um, I went to a small branch of the university of Minnesota. That was a small liberal arts branch in Morris. Um, they didn't have a specific majors like plant science or horticulture. So I double majored in biology and computer science. And in biology, I always took like the plant related classes and, um, kind of.
Back in the late nineties, computers were a big deal. So I wanted to learn how to program computers, things like that. So coming toward the end of my undergrad, I couldn't picture myself sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours a day. So I knew I wanted to go more like the plant and the horticulture track.
Um, so I applied to various grad schools for my master's degree. Um, I ended up going to the university of Minnesota and working with John Erwin. Who's a really great greenhouse floor culture guy. Um, he really liked my computer science background and he said, oh, we have these new data loggers and light sensors and temperature sensors.
We haven't figured out how to like set them up and program the data logger yet. You're a computer science guy. You can probably figure that out. So, uh, so my masters project was, was working with supplemental lighting in ornamental plants and bedding plants. Um, and that gave me the first taste of. Really doing controlled environment research and in the greenhouse environment.
Um, so that cemented in my mind that I wanted to keep going on to graduate school for a PhD and I, and, uh, at that point, John Erwin was very smart. He was like, professionally, you need, you need to leave the university of Minnesota system now and go somewhere else and expand your network. Um, and the, the fit that I found that worked for me was at the university of California Davis.
My PhD advisor, um, was Heiner Leith, um, who he's, uh, like a mathematical modeler in, in controlled environments or any greenhouses. So back in the day, he developed a mathematical model for cut flower rose production. Going back to when that was a decently made. The hydroponic crop in California. Um, so that was a great move for me.
Um, and it, again, got to work with greenhouse crops. Um, I studied nutrient uptake and mathematical modeling of nutrient use depending on environmental conditions and how, um, the crop growth cycle. Uh, and so. That was a wonderful experience that segwayed into about the time I was finishing up, looking for jobs.
This position at Cornell came open that originally was in the department of horticulture. Now it's merged into our school of integrated planet science. And, um, it was for a, um, uh, flora cult, greenhouse floriculture person in, um, research and extension. Um, so I came to Cornell in 2007 as an assistant professor, um, very quickly.
I met Lou Albright and Bob Lang hands, the founders of the Cornell CA group, um, and started going to their weekly lab meetings. They were very nice to a young faculty member and influential to a young faculty member and kind of opened my eyes to a greenhouse vegetable production. Uh, and then. Started to collaborate with them more and more.
So at that point, Bob laying hands was already retired, but still active with, with the program. And then Lou Albright was, was directing the Cornell CA program. Um, and then he started to go into phased retirement a few years after I, I came to Cornell. So you work with some heavy hitters. Yes. Right, right.
Totally legends. Right. And, um, they were very accessible. So they had this tradition of having a Friday morning meeting. Uh, we'd be in the head house of our research greenhouse complex. They would say, come get coffee at 8:00 AM. And then at 8:30 AM, we'll dive into the business meeting for the week. Um, they would invite, um, businesses or potential businesses to come talk.
So if. They would get lots of random emails and phone calls. And what do you think about this business plan or what do you think about this idea? And they would always be very sharing with their time and, uh, let people come to the meeting. They would be, um, kind of the devil's advocate. So they were really good at picking apart business plans, which.
Probably it is, is really what businesses need though, is someone to not be yes-men, but be very critical and try to find holes in a business plan. Um, so, so I got to learn from a couple of great guys and think critically about CA and bringing those, those projects to fruition. Um, so then, uh, just to kind of close the gap there.
So in, um, so I got tenure in 2013 at that time. I saw that there was increasing, um, information requests for greenhouse vegetable production in New York state. And really nationally, this, this industry is growing by double digits in New York per year. Um, and the F the floor culture industry, which I still cover is a more mature industry.
So the. They don't have the same degree of questions that the, that the industry has. I still love, love working with floriculture industries, but I was able to rewrite my job description to cover, um, vegetable crops as well. So I think my job description is greenhouse horticulture at this point. Um, and then I became co-director of the.
With, with Lou Albright. Um, he was really great. I think he wanted me to become director sooner rather than later, he waited until I had a sabbatical in 2016, which gave me some time to do more grant writing and planning. And, um, and then when I came back, he was like, okay, uh, you have to take over as director now.
He'd been fully retired for a few years. So, so since that time I've been at. Excellent. So, so you, the keys are handed over to you and now you're helping to shape that. Is that kind of, when you were looking at that and, and, and all the different aspects to your, to your job was, was light horticultural lighting, really, always one of the primary things that you were looking at, or is this kind of evolving as you're seeing the industry.
Lighting is always been on my mind. Uh, so, so like I mentioned, my master's project was studying lighting with bedding plants, and I saw how powerful lighting was when you could give a bedding plant, the correct amount of light. And it was. Come to flower in 30 days, post transplanting instead of like 60 or 90 days, but those transplanting.
And then I start thinking about the crop cycles that you can move through. Um, my eyes were really opened even, you know, this would be going back into the early two thousands. Um, and then coming to Cornell where the CA group had a history of, um, lighting work and, and all of Lou Albright's great.
Scheduling light to compliment the sun. For example, that really gave me that reinforced, I guess the fact that that in, in a Northern climate lighting is the most important driver of plant productivity. We can, we can pay to heat a greenhouse, but if we don't have. Supplemental light. Um, things really slow down in the winter time.
And, uh, like Lou Albright would say, uh, uh, so in the winter time it would take three times longer to grow a head of lettuce. If you don't have supplemental lighting. So instead of 35 days from seed to harvest, It would take a, what is that? 115 days or whatever. So he's like you could heat three greenhouses without supplemental lighting, or you could heat one greenhouse and have supplemental lighting and then coinciding with that.
Of course, there are all these really interesting advances in lighting. So things have happened very quickly. LED's and what's possible. And I remember even in like 2013, 2014, 2015, we we'd argue at our Friday morning meetings, like, are LEDs ever realistically going to take over high pressure sodium lights.
Um, and at this point it's inevitable like their, their energy efficiency, um, at least for the best labs, the quality of the plant as well as is, has been, has been. Yes. Yes. Yep. So as a horticulturalist, that's that really appeals to me too. Yes. As a horticulturalist, the fact that it's now practical to adjust the quality of light, um, to guide the plant in a way that you want to yeah.
So with a background in data collection and an understanding that, you know, a lot of people in the horticultural industry, especially at that time, didn't have, you really were positioned very well. Um, lighting has been something and, you know, being a Minnesota guy and growing it and working in upstate New York, obviously lighting is such a huge factor, but lighting has been traditionally really one of those somewhat in tangent.
Uh, benefits, you know, so you can look at overall growth rate, but without really being able to analyze the data, it's hard to quantify things like nutrient uptake. Uh, crop quality, um, all of those different factors and going, I mean, you, you know, grow growers have known for a very long time. They can shorten their growth cycles and increase, improve their winter quality.
But you know, the, the, the results of, you know, nutrient changes or system and irrigation changes are usually a little more pronounced and quickly and easily observed lighting is a little different, but now when you're able to collect. Very specific data sets that obviously really opened up, um, the, the, the tangible understanding of.
And I think too, to your point, Joe, part of it is that human eyes are not good detectors of light quantity. Right? So, uh, we can, we can read a newspaper well with a hundred times less light than what a plant needs for good photo synthesis and, um, and our eyes. Really tell us that that plant available light has like doubled or tripled or quadrupled.
So, so we can go out on a sunny January day and think we're doing fine, largely light wise, but until we really have sensors and look at the data or look at the crop productivity, um, where we won't necessarily see, well now is there sensors that are out now that are, because I know back in like 2015, 16, Uh, there was no sensors to be able to read led output correctly.
Is that, is that right? Or. Yeah, that's right. So, so, um, so we use quantum set to series, um, which are theoretically supposed to be able to weight equally all the light between 400 and 700 nanometers. Um, and if we go back, uh, I don't know, seven, 10 years ago, the quantum center sensors, they just select the filters that let light pass through.
They worked really well for broad spectrum lights. So for sunlight or HPS light, um, but their tails kind of cut off before they, before they included all of the blue and included all of the red. Um, and so if you put that same sensor under a red blue led, you would have under estimated how much light you got from that, that red, blue led source.
So, um, the filters have gotten much better over the last seven years or so. And we get, we have kind of truly accurate key PFD sensors. Um, before that we had to use spectra radiometers, which is like a $10,000 piece of equipment and a specter radiometer goes through and scans at each wavelength from like 300 to 800 nanometers, how much light you get at each wave length.
And then you get the beautiful curve that results from that. That you know, is something that a scientist can afford to have not something that was practical for a grower to have. Uh, and yeah, so, so, um, having an affordable light sensors, that work is hugely important. Where did you start to see. That shift happened where the bolt, the lighting technology, but also the sensing and control technology really started to become kind of, um, uh, uh, an economic benefit in CA because obviously there's always the difference between, you know, research and commercial practical application, and right, right.
At that certain point, you know, where, where was that for you that you were starting to see? Like, this really makes a lot of sense as just an economic tool for growers. So in the. 2000 teens. I was really following, um, Bruce work from Utah state university. Um, and they had data paper that came out in 2014, looking at the energy efficacy of different lighting sources.
Um, and one of the things that they really opened my eyes to is that even high pressure sodium lights had really increased in their energy efficiency in the last 20 years. Um, so. So moving to electronic ballasts and moving away from magnetic ballasts and double ended HPS technology and better reflectors of that.
It had almost doubled the energy efficiency of high pressure sodium lights, um, as compared to like the mid nineties. Um, uh, so I was thinking. Well willing. And we all were like, it's suddenly a lot more practical to add supplemental light than it used to be. And then in 2014 is, were, is so, uh, again from, from Bruce buggies paper, the best LEDs in 2014 had the same energy efficiency as the best high pressure sodium lights.
So, uh, so that was. Kind of startling to the industry because LED's had been maybe a bit over-hyped in their early days for plant lighting, LEDs were way more efficient than incandescent lights, right? So if you replace a household light bulb, LEDs were way more efficient and they were decently more efficient than fluorescent lights.
But until 2014, they were not more efficient than high pressure sodium lights. And then that changed very rapidly. By 2016, the best LEDs were 40% more efficient than the best high pressure sodium lights. Um, and then that has just grown. So now some of the best LEDs, um, if you can believe the label, which I think you can, because they're validated by third party, but they're, they're now twice as efficient as the best high pressure sodium lights.
So things to really take enough in the last seven years or so with led technology. And, um, to go along with that, um, we need capital costs to go down, right? So, so it's like, okay, if the energy efficiencies there what's really the barrier for the grower. And some of these barriers are the high capital cost.
Um, so when I did some calculations in 2016, I was looking at like a 10 to 12 year return on investment for retrofit. Uh, HPS with LEDs now, depending on your, I mean, it all depends on the price of electricity and how many hours a year you run them. But I've seen scenarios where you could look at like a three to five-year return on investment before incentives from utility companies.
And you've got to replace them every 10 years to. Yeah, that's correct. So, so fixtures have a, what's called the Q 90, or sometimes they'll go down to 70% efficiency, Q 70, essentially. It, um, is a rating for how many hours you can operate them until their light output degrades. Uh, by 10% to 90%. So that would be Q 90, um, or to 70%, which would be Q 70.
And the thought being, you probably shouldn't wait until Q 70 to replace a bulb or to replace a light fixture because you're spending the same amount of electricity to, um, get 30% less light in the case of Q 70. So, um, so depending on the rating of the fixture and when it was recommended group, Track they're tracking their light intensity over time to look at how they're, how they're losing a little bit of efficacy over time, but maybe Q 90 is the, is the time to replace a fixture.
And I think there is an led company that said that, that you can change it in 15 years, I think is one company claiming that you can go 15 years with one. So I've seen some of these fixtures, we'll have a Q 90 rating of like 50,000 hours. And so theoretically in like a greenhouse with supplemental light, maybe they're used for 2,500 hours a year.
So theoretically you could go for 20 years. Uh, yeah, it's everything everything's working. Right. And nothing else is failing when we start looking at the, the practical life usage, but then comparing it with the speed at which the technology is advancing. You know, you also have to factor into obsolescence.
And so, you know, when you, if you're losing, you know, 10 or 15% of your lighting efficiency, uh, or light up. But your newer technology is so much better. It obviously makes a lot more economic sense to be looking at replacement. You know, the old, in the old days, we used to hold onto the, the lights as long as possible, just because you're looking at the cost of bulb replacement.
And now it's a completely different ball game, right? Products are changing so rapidly and improving. So around. Yes. Oh my gosh. I've seen so many old HPS fixtures that are probably at like Q 50. They're probably like the bulbs are 20 years old. We're getting like half the light or less, but again, humans are bad detectors of that.
So we really need like a sensor to prove to ourselves that we really do need to replace the bulbs at this point or replace the fixtures that this they're bad detectors. And they're also bad when they're thumbing through the horticultural supply catalog and looking at the price of bulbs and not calculating in the.
And I also noticed with the lights getting better. Also, the controllers are getting better. You know, some of the controllers I'm able to control all the whites, the blues and the reds separately, and also mimic sunrise and sunsets and stuff like that. Absolutely. Yeah, so the sensors and the control side has, uh, has really increased as well.
Um, and so we have a point where we can use a greenhouse environmental control system and we can dim the fixtures. They're not just on off, and we can also select the channels of the wavelengths of life that we want to dim to, um, which then as. Uh, horticulturalists. I like to say, um, our engineering, um, has exceeded our understanding of how to use these in a practical way for fixtures.
We know, we know certain things about light quality or light quantity as the crop progresses, but truly there would be like millions of combinations that can be investigated in terms of yes. Yeah. So I was lucky to visit you over at Cornell a couple of years ago and see a lot of the great work you're doing and meet some of the students who are working with.
Um, but obviously your work extends far beyond, uh, just your work at Cornell. So can you tell us a little bit about that? Sure. Sure. Let me tell you about the glaze research initiative first, if I may. Uh, so, uh, glaze stands for greenhouse lighting and systems engineering, and we really want to be like a central clearing house for lighting manufacturers, CA control industry members and CA growers.
To get really great fact-based information on how to use lights and how to be the most energy efficient. Um, and it was founded from, um, New York state funding from NYSERDA, which is New York state energy research and development authority. So this, they seeded this project with a $5 million investment by the state in this seven year project.
Um, but it's really national or international and scope. Uh, and so what glaze. Does is we not only do academic research at Cornell and RPI and Rutgers, uh, then it's really about, uh, technology transfer, sharing that information. And de-risking, um, the investment in LEDs for companies. So with the greater awareness of how you can be successful with LEDs or how you can control them, um, to, to actually get the industry to, um, make the switch.
Um, and, and I sorta, our funding source, I think, was really farsighted in this. So, so they get, um, dollars from everybody's energy bill in New York state to improve energy efficiency. And we have really progressive targets in the state for reducing our carbon footprint related to energy usage. And so there was this realization that the CA industry is growing by 10% a year here, but, um, Uh, but this industry uses a lot of energy and if we're going to both meet our energy targets and this industry's going to grow, we really need the industry to adopt, um, best management practices.
So on the research and, um, the nicer to research funds, um, a range of different projects. We use, uh, lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries is our model crops. And we do everything from work on light quality and optimizing light quality to the crop work with daily light integral, just figuring out the quantity of light that optimizes the crop, um, and, uh, combining our knowledge of light quantity.
And carbon dioxide enrichment. So can we, can we reduce our supplemental lighting targets, um, by, um, uh, adding, um, uh, supplementary carbon dioxide. Um, and then that also connects to, um, uh, lighting control algorithms that we, that we develop as well. Um, then on the outreach side of that, or the industry adoption side of.
We have, um, the, the member funded consortium. Um, so we have about 25 members currently, um, across, um, PR producers and manufacturers and supply side, um, and they support, um, the outreach activities. So we have our executive director, Erica mottos. Um, he'll, he's a great guy that leads, leads the outreach. So we have a webinar series.
We have technical bulletins, we have our newsletter, um, and then pre COVID. We had, uh, periodic industry events. We hope to get back there. Um, but we've been having virtual events in the meantime. Um, and one of those coming up is the lighting short course. So how can people find out about that and get more information online?
Yes. Thank you for asking. So, uh, if you go to our website, uh, glaze.org, G L a S e.org, uh, then you'll see a tab on top for the lighting short course. Um, and so the lighting short course is, starts in mid-October, uh, and it is a six week, um, two hours a week course, or. Um, October 14th through November 18th.
And, um, it comes from this, um, the perspective of what does the whole process look like for someone to make a lighting, um, decision in their greenhouse. So we help people. Through the course of the six week, um, uh, chorus, help people evaluate, um, one is there depending on your climate, how much, how much light can you expect to have?
Um, is it even worth supplemental lighting in your climate? Um, what do your crops need in terms of their lighting requirements? Um, and then really diving into. Um, a light quality, the pros and cons of LEDs versus HPS fixtures. Um, what does, uh, an electrical lighting installation look like? So questions that you should bring to your utility company, um, questions that you should, uh, bring or answer before planning the electrical installation.
Um, and then the, um, probably the most important is the economics of crop lighting. Um, and then finally, like future perspectives and things to be on the lookout for. So in our mind is probably the most comprehensive, uh, chorus ever put together. That's on specific sensitives of a using LEDs. So we do have one of our speakers, um, represents a utility company.
Um, and we're gonna talk about, um, both, um, electrical rate structure that can like often utilities have many different rate structures that can do work with you to figure out which rate structure is going to give you the cheapest electricity. Um, but we're also going to address, um, incentive programs as well.
Um, which many. The many of the incentive programs are very specific to an individual utility company. Um, yes. So, so it varies from state to state. Yes. Right? Right. And some states have a few different utilities, so, so it could vary based on what part of the state you're at. And then some of the, the companies also have separate programs that are a whole separate entity too, as well.
That's right. That's right. Yep. So lighting companies may have their own programs. There are also federal dollars available. Um, the reap program that renewable energy, uh, program, um, can pay, um, I think 25% on, on retrofits for energy efficiency and agriculture. Um, as well as in some cases you can get, um, low cost loans.
That's something I've seen growers struggle, struggle with quite a bit is kind of the, the lack of standardization in terms of not only just basic information, but. The, the energy incentive programs, how to navigate that because it's not simply a matter of, you know, we hook up the lights, we plug them in, you pay X number of dollars and go there's.
There are programs there's so much complexity to them. Portion. I mean, in the end that part of the industry is growing and evolving, but, um, but that's a very valuable resource to growers. That's just one of the most common questions I I get from growers is how to, how to navigate that. So that's a very valuable lighting to, in a sentence too, as well.
I mean, it goes beyond fans and all of the other energy efficient appliances. Yeah, Shay curtains. Um, we've seen a New York people have gotten funding for their cogent systems. Uh, cause then they get their electricity and they can use the waste heat and waste CO2 in their greenhouse. Um, you're right, Joe, those, those become, um, complicated questions rather quickly.
And so, um, our industry is very specialized compared to other industries where it's like, okay, we're going to swap out this walk-in cooler with this walk-in cooler and saved me 30% on. Well, that's, that's certainly some very valuable stuff. So blaze.org, you know, everyone should really take a look at that and consider signing up for the course because that's a lot of really practical and you recommend not just growers and not just people in the industry, but also like the executives, uh, uh, should be taking courses like this.
Absolutely. So in my mind, this is a great course for lighting companies. So they can also like walk their clients through the decision-making process. Um, the growers themselves, the, um, the allied trade part of the industry that we offer a range of services to the industry, and we want to have the resources to help our clients make the best decisions.
So you have a lot going on. What do you, what, um, could, because you had a, kind of a front seat here at the forefront of some of the more, um, the rapidly evolving technologies and CA what, what are you, what have you seen over the past 5, 6, 7 years that maybe has surprised you the most and where do you think this has taken us looking down with your, your crystal ball, where, where we're going.
Ooh, a very great question. Uh, I guess what has surprised me is how quickly the industry has grown, um, and the types of large projects that are being proposed. Um, I've, it's been fun to observe. To the like urban agriculture side of the industry. Um, I think it's still, it's still kind of a niche and, and maybe the economics aren't there to grow a large proportion of our food in a city, but the fact that cities are interested in where their food comes from.
Um, and to some degree, you know, really want to invest in that. I think that's, that's been quite surprising and, and fun to see, um, the related to the growth of the industry. Um, a hard, what to me seems like a big bottleneck to bring in projects to fruition is also having a well-educated head grower or farm operations manager.
Um, and it seems like there's not enough of those people around that. Both have some, like it's useful to have both some good academic underpinning, but what you really need are three to five to 10 years. Uh, good real world experience, um, shortage for the next five years is what you're saying. Absolutely.
Yeah. And it may extend even beyond that. Um, and uh, I think we're running out of Dutch growers that we can import. So, so the kind of model right, is to go to the Netherlands. And find a, a highly qualified grower and get a work visa and bring them to the us for three to six years and then try to, uh, train staff internally.
Um, but, but they are a limited commodity as well. Yeah. We have been doing a lot of grower training for people. Um, I think, and, and having talked with, with Jean and Mariah. Um, at the university of Arizona and also with yourself is that maybe we can work toward more, a better partnership between the technology providers, academic institutions, and commercial growers to, to bring that up.
Because again, as you, to your point, that well-roundedness that the academic background, the. Hardcore in the real world, horticultural farming experience. You know, we always beat this to death and we'll be talking about this, uh, this coming week at the indoor ag con, that this is farming and this is producing high quality plants in sufficient quantity and market competitive quality that you can sell at a price point that allows you a reasonable.
And, you know, the, the, the understanding of the plant physiology and the technologies to manipulate that obviously are extraordinarily important, but also the ACA the economics and the, the, the management, the farm management operations, um, one of the things that. Yeah. I always like to say, or I've heard this expression from other people, um, greenhouses don't make money.
I'm selling a crop for more money than it costs to produce it as what makes money. Perfect. We're going to put that on a t-shirt t-shirt for sure. So you have a lot going on other, other projects, other, uh, endeavors, as well as if there weren't enough hours in the day for you. So one of the other projects I want to bring up, um, is, is a USDA specialty crops research initiative project.
Um, this one is led by mark van. Aircel at the university of Georgia and it's called project lamp. Um, this one is lighting approaches to maximize profits. Um, and it's a national group. So we have like Rutgers university, Utah state, Michigan state, Colorado state. Uh, and I'm actually not Michigan state on that particular one.
Um, but, uh, it is looking at, uh, the economics of lighting for both vegetable crops and floriculture crops. Uh, and it's, um, through mark, uh, it's really looking at, um, pushing lights and pushing sensors beyond their current status quo. Um, so for example, mark has this really great platform for imaging. Um, how crop size changes over time, um, in a low-cost way, uh, as well as to, um, actually detect, um, um, photosynthetic rate, um, he actually does it through some, some tricks and he looks at electron transport rate, which correlates well to photosynthetic rate, um, and bringing these.
Biofeedback tools or tools that we so, so beyond looking at like measuring how much light we get in a greenhouse measuring, how is the crop actually responding in the greenhouse? Um, and then, um, economics, um, uh, and profit really factor in to the work that, that this group does as well. So, so because it's.
Uh, national and focus it's again, thinking about like, do supplemental lights make sense in your neck of the woods, do they, do they not for your crop? Um, and there's some really great lighting calculator tools on their website. Um, their website is Hort lamp.org. So H O R T L a M P dot. Um, and then you can find lighting calculation tools.
Um, one of which is great. So, so you probably know about the daily light integral map, which is you can look at where you are in the us and see what your average daily light integral is, um, for every month of the year. So this, um, one of the Lennon calculation tools uses. Plug in your zip code and it pulls in your specific, um, DLI for your zip code based on the historical record.
And then you plug in dimensions on your greenhouse and the intensity of life that you need. And it calculates. Uh, and the efficacy of the light. So you could look at like an HPS efficacy versus an led efficacy, and it actually calculates the cost per month to light your greenhouse to, uh, to a target lighting level.
So they factor in, uh, energy costs in that area, too. That's right. Yep. So you plug in your energy cost, um, and you get a number that comes out of it. Um, and then I have a more simple Excel tool that's posted there where you can calculate roughly how many light fixtures you need given, given your target light intensity.
And, um, from that then. You can back calculate like, okay, I need X number of fixtures. This is the cost for fixture. And then using the other tool you can calculate, what does it cost to run them for a year? And then you can really start to wrap your head around the economics of, of comparing different lighting systems.
Well, that's a really valuable tool, I think so. Yeah. And from a, from a horticultural perspective, we've done, uh, that project has done a bunch of great research with kind of undervalued. Uh, uh, qualities of light so far red light in particular is one that we're realizing is, is actually photosynthetically active and far red light actually shapes how the plant grows.
So, uh, we can get, for example, wider, thinner leaves with far red light that could help a leafy green capture, more light after you transplanted out into a system. Uh, and so it's giving us we're actually, um, Bruce Bugbee a Utah, mark spent years old at Georgia had proposed changing the definition of what's.
Photosynthetically active based on, based on this research and some of the other research. So they're recommending now that we look at not just 400 to 700, but 400 to seven 50, um, as being photosynthetically active. So I'd like to really just quick go back to a point that you had made in something that you were explaining was that, you know, for, for forever in CA what we do is we, we apply these external inputs to temperature, certain light levels, certain humidity levels, but now we're understanding much more in some, in more or less real time.
What that's doing to the plant, how that's affecting the plant in terms of it's real-time, photosynthetically, um, active, right. You know, the photos of rate of photosynthesis and all that. So, so now we're really, instead of going to, here's what we're giving to the plant, we're actually letting the plant tell us much more simpler terms, what, what, what it needs and how it's responding to what we're providing.
Absolutely. And that could play into like your question. Future advances that we're going to see. Um, and we've seen this, this movement coming out of the Netherlands as well. That's, that's called plant empowerment, and it's really trying to understand what's happening at the plant level rather than the environmental level and like trying to optimize the environment to, to how the plant is performing.
Yes. Yes, I have it. I worked through it from time to time and I get a chance. I love the graphs in that book, um, and the concepts make, make great sense. And so I think this is going to play into, um, plant sensing and artificial intelligence, um, computer voice box for the plant. What if we can put a voice box and then all of a sudden the plank.
We might be able to, people are looking at different ways to do that. And, um, one of the things we know is that plants give off a different chemical signature if they're stressed. Uh, so people are looking at like volatile organic compounds, and then if there's within the camp, I know in my camp, I always know who's the hierarchy and my.
And that's true. I'm not even lying here. I could just tell me what to do. I don't run the camp. The hierarchy runs the camp. Great. That's like the cats in my household. I never thought about that as the plants in my household. Right. And I'm not the only one that says this. There's a lot of Northern California.
People that agree with me. They can tell who's the hierarchy is. Wow. That's, that's very in touch with your plants for sure. And I do think, I do think we'll be, you know, quantifying that both the scientists and then to industry adoption, like what is the plant telling me about its growing status? Um, what can I do to optimize the plant at that point?
Um, and it goes back to take out, all right. Take out that plant over there. Doesn't belong here. Right. We have to bring some of them to market. Which ones should I bring to market today? We go from hierarchy to the plant mafia, basically.
That's true. I always get my tomatoes to fruit by holding a tire iron at them and saying, okay, you, you fruit now, or you're out of here. Right. Uh, so some of these trends with like plant sensing and artificial intelligence, um, we've seen, uh, voguing in university, um, with their autonomous greenhouse challenge, for example.
And so I'm pleased to see that they're on their third, uh, version of that now. And it's a leafy greens crop for their, their third autonomous greenhouse challenge. So they have had, um, they have. Couple of rounds that lead up to selecting five teams that are going to be autonomously controlling the greenhouse environment using so that they get a week to deploy sensors in the greenhouse.
And then, um, they have to rely on the sensors and rely on their algorithms to control the greenhouse thereafter for, for two different crop cycles. That's that's fascinating. So, um, a lot of people will be listening to this after the back, but obviously we're going to be seeing you this week at the indoor ag con.
So tell us a little bit about what you'll be talking about and what you're doing. Yeah. So, so I'll be on a panel. That's looking at, uh, future perspectives in CA and, um, I always loved these interactive panels. One. I don't have to come prepared with slides, but two, we can like feed off of the crowd and the interests of the crowd.
So, um, I'm looking forward to a very interesting quick paced conversation. Uh, and we'll be talking about some of these same things. The. I'm speaking on Monday morning. Yes. Bring Neil your questions, everyone. That's right. Where do you see the industry going? Um, we've see more, uh, like breeding companies specifically for CA crops for high nutritional value and not just, um, self life performance from like a field crop or traditionally we've bred crops that, that performed well in a field and, um, shift.
Well, and with CA we can. A more perishable crop and, and give it higher nutritional use. Um, some of these connections with, um, training in the workforce. And what does it mean for the workforce to have like this technical skillset that like, okay, do they have to understand computers and artificial intelligence and plant empowerment, but also bringing a crop to, to market?
I thought it was just about letting a plant grow in the system. And that said, I didn't realize it was so country. I do got a question for Neil. Um, if you could go back into time, Neil to your, uh, your younger version, um, and give yourself some advice, what would that advice. Oh, that's a great question. What does I love the field I'm in?
So I don't think I would have changed that. And to me, I find it amusing looking back that the thing that I've always been passionate about is somehow popular. All of a sudden, or CA's growing and it's in its influence and it's capturing the public's attention. Um, I think I would go back and tell myself to, um, spend even more time in calculus.
Class and statistical analysis. So like some of the new, like AI techniques, um, are starting to like now I hire like PhD students or postdocs that, that bring those capabilities to the plate that I wish I could bone up on my. What's your favorite part of this, of this industry? My favorite part is going out to a greenhouse.
I got, I got out to a leafy greens grower in upstate New York, yesterday, getting away from campus, getting to a farm and actually. Talking with growers about what's going on and what, what they're doing. They're excited about it, how, um, how they might improve what they're doing. Um, though that's where I find passion.
Um, and then as a researcher, those interactions lead to the best research questions. I haven't, I don't think I've ever had a good research question. Just sitting in front of my computer, like thinking to myself, I think it's been bouncing things off of growers. And when they have questions that I can't answer, then it's like, wait, that, that we need to study.
I can't just like find a, find a research paper to answer that. Um, so, so that brings me a lot of joy, um, and mentoring students and graduate students is the other thing that brings. Well, everything brings me joy, but in particular, mentoring students also brings me joy. So helping a student develop their own career path, helping them become experts in the area.
Um, it's been really fun to see many of my students going on to working in the commercial industry. Um, and. Um, yeah, thereby like Cornell spreading its influence to the world. That's a, that's something I think. And we'll have to have you back again. We'll have to have more conversations because that's something that we really haven't even touched that much on is that, um, you know, Cornell's work as well as your work.
Um, on my start in the industry. Came from Dr. Peter shippers, who was a researcher Cornell's, um, long island research center in the late sixties, early seventies. And so obviously Cornell's reach on young people and people coming into this industry and your, um, uh, not only educating, but mentoring people, which is a very, it's different, but, but very, very important.
Um, that's critically important. And that is something that we could spend a whole show talking about. And maybe we should, so. Absolutely. And, um, our alumni network feedback into the program, they provide internships. They give us advice about what direction to take things. And, um, we really enjoyed that, that two-way.
Oh, that's fantastic. So glaze.org, Hort lamp.org. Those are two very important sites to check out. If Neil, if people want to get in touch with you, they have questions. They want to talk to you. They want to learn more about Cornell's programs, um, and everything else you're doing. What's the best way for them to get in touch with you, sir, you can send me an firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have to learn how to spell Neal, right? Anyhow. Dot M a T T S O email@example.com. Um, shoot me an email, love these conversations, and I'm really looking forward to networking with a bunch of people at indoor air con in Orlando next week, too. Yeah, it's it's going to be a lot of fun and whoever's listening to this.
Just click down under the scriptions. All the emails would be into district. You're amazing, Nick. That's awesome. Thank you. Where's the man. So, um, Neil, thank you so much for your time. Uh, I know you're a very busy guy, but also the insight and, and great wealth of knowledge that you are. So, so thank you for all the work that you're doing.
Thank you for spending some time. Today and, uh, and we very much appreciate and look forward to seeing you in Orlando and hearing, having a more con more conversations. Uh, and thank you everyone for listening and spending some more time with us. Again, we'll be talking with you again soon about all things controlled environment ag, please continue to send in the questions.
Please reach out to Neil, check out the websites. Um, send us more suggestions for shows, things that you want to talk about. And, uh, we look forward to seeing you and hearing from you again soon. Thanks very much, everyone have a great day.