When Production Issues Lead to Unexpected Positive Impacts: Focus on Microgreens

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Speciality crops are inherently unique, and often under-researched when it comes to production information and recommendations. A local microgreen producer began a small business during the pandemic, operating his production through CEA (controlled environment agriculture). Six months into his operation, he developed a disease issue that was dramatically reducing his yield. This further complicated account expansion plans that were already in process.

The Small Farms Extension Agent began assessing the production environment and the overall production situation, utilizing the NC Department of Agriculture, the NC State Plant Disease and Insect Clinic, and area specialists. Pythium was detected, a common but potentially devastating pathogen that can be difficult to eradicate, particularly when conventional products are not in alignment with the production system model. A holistic approach was devised that included a number of integrated pest management protocols. After weeks of careful sanitizing and disinfecting, as well as shifting growing media and the workflow of the production system to minimize disease spread, the pathogen was ultimately controlled.

This unfortunate pest issue led to several positive outcomes: the involvement of Extension connected the producer to important recommendations for food safety, ultimately leading to the grower pursuing GAP certification. This certification has already opened up new lucrative markets, and also connected the grower to existing cost-share programs and resources that will further help sustain this business. Lastly, due to the highly specialized nature of microgreen production, the initial disease problem led to a mutual learning experience, where the microgreen producer was recruited to present his system to a cohort of Extension agents across the state who wanted to learn more about microgreen production on a small scale. Beneficial impacts to the microgreen business, Extension Agent network, and the overall connection of Extension to similar CEA-operations continue to occur.

Various Microgreens in black flatpacks.