Almost as soon as the spinach/E. coli crisis broke, we raised the issue as to whether the spinach situation might not create an opportunity for greenhouse growing. Now Lou Cooperhouse, Director, Rutgers Food Innovation Center, elaborates on the issue:
A technology that has been with us for years, hydroponics, may offer increased interest to agricultural producers, as it relates to growing produce in a more controlled situation without environmental influences and potential contamination with E. coli. Marketers can identify ways to market hydroponic product to consumers that communicates how such produce is grown, and all of its benefits, including the fact that product is grown under very controlled circumstances and can result in a product that consumers may “trust” more than conventional products.
With the spinach situation now in the memory banks of consumers, the timing may be right to introduce the benefits of hydroponic product, but perhaps with a reinforcement of some of these benefits vs. conventionally grown product.
Our Rutgers Food Innovation Center has a client that was featured on the NJN TV station news this past Wednesday, which is an Israeli company called Organitech, which has a patented robotic hydroponic technology. Their website is quite interesting — www.organitech.com
Organitech claims it can produce 50-100 times more yielded volume of product, such as romaine, in an acre or hectare than conventional farmland and 2-5 times more than a conventional greenhouse due to its robotic technology and spacing and yield techniques. So this efficiency may also ease some of our farm labor concerns, while producing a product that may be proven to be of reduced food safety concerns.
A link to this NJN news video of this broadcast will not be live for too much longer, but can be found at the following: http://www.njn.net/television/webcast/ njnnewswednesday.html
To save some time, advance forward the recording to 16 minutes and 50 seconds into the broadcast, and you will come to the beginning of this segment.
I can say this, when the spinach market was opened, I had numerous calls asking me for sources of hydroponic spinach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be grown commercially in the U.S. But, clearly, if we are going to implicate animals in these outbreaks, there will be a consumer population willing to pay a premium for product grown in a controlled environment.