To meet future challenges associated with climate change, new farming techniques are being studied and practiced, including controlled environmental agriculture (CEA), such as vertical farming and indoor farming. In recognition of the United Nations proclamation of 2021 as The Year of Fruits and Vegetables, ARS National Program Leaders Drs. Timothy Rinehart and Joseph Munyaneza look at how ARS will guide fruit and vegetable production in the future.
“These ideas are really taking steam,” Munyaneza said. “CEA enables the grower to control just about anywhere, which improves proximity because you can now grow fresh leafy greens and strawberries, for example, in the middle of a city.”
CEA can also reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides because a controlled environment can limit crop exposure to pests and disease. CEA programs are currently being piloted in the United States and on the International Space Station in a NASA/USDA collaboration.
“With CEA, we’re seeing a new culture environment,” Munyaneza said. “Restaurants, for example, are using their roofs to grow amazing fresh herbs and greens, and they can just go up there and grab it.”
In the next 20 years, ARS scientists see an integration of many different crop systems into one whole, such as growing apples with grapes and pears with hops. (Jessica Griffiths, D3880-1)
Rise of Boutique Varieties
Looking ahead 15 years or more, Rinehart said he sees boutique or club varieties continuing to dominate sales. Nearly all apples sold are named and marketed, and he sees the same branding applied to more tree fruits and small fruits.
“I think table grapes will continue to expand, and small fruits like strawberries and blueberries are the next to undergo this market transformation and have potential for a huge market increase,” he said, adding that ARS has a robust nationwide breeding program for these kinds of crops.