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How to help vertical farms grow more efficiently and economically

OptimIA is a research and outreach project aimed at offering production and economic information that is useful and can be applied to the indoor farm industry. The concept of OptimIA originated when Erik Runkle at Michigan State University, Chieri Kubota at Ohio State University, and Cary Mitchell at Purdue University were involved in an LED lighting project focused on greenhouse applications.

“It was getting to the end of the project, and we asked ourselves what is the next frontier of lighting and growing,” said Runkle, who is a horticulture professor at Michigan State. “We came to the realization that the greatest opportunity and need for information were managing the environment for vertical farming production. We saw the next frontier as growing indoors and the need for research-based information. The name OptimIA came from our focus on optimizing indoor agriculture–Opti for optimizing and IA for indoor agriculture.”

In 2015 the three researchers submitted a USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant proposal for funding that would focus on lighting but would include other aspects of growing indoors.

“We went through the proposal submission process for several years before the USDA approved the grant for the OptimIA project,” Runkle said. “The proposal that was finally approved was to study the aerial environment as well as economics for indoor leafy greens. The aerial environment refers to air circulation, humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, light, and temperature. Some of our team members are also studying root zone management of hydroponic crops using additional funding.”

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