Bowery Farming, the national vertical farming giant, has entered into a new agreement with the University of Arkansas Agriculture System Division to support research into the development of spinach varieties bred for production. high quality indoors and to thrive in Bowery’s exclusive growing system.
Scientists at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture, are conducting the research in partnership with scientists at Bowery Research and Development facilities. Bowery Farming claims to be the largest vertical farming company in the United States by business footprint.
Newton Kalengamaliro, senior agricultural researcher at Bowery Farming Inc., and Haizheng Xiong, Ph.D., program associate at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station
Bowery Farming sells pesticide-free leafy greens and herbs in more than 1,100 U.S. grocery stores and major e-commerce platforms including Walmart and Whole Foods Market. This year, the New York-based company launched two strawberry varieties, offered in their Strawberry Discovery Duopack. Bowery Farming is also expanding its geographic reach across the United States with a new indoor “smart farm” in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania featuring robotics, artificial intelligence and other technology to manage farming systems.
Bowery Farming will soon launch farms in metro Atlanta and Dallas“The agreement between Bowery Farming and the Agriculture Division underscores our commitment to improving modern agriculture using advanced breeding technologies,” said Jean-Francois Meullenet, senior associate vice president for agricultural research and director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. “Collaborations like this exemplify the kind of public-private research partnerships the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station has been pursuing for decades as part of our land-grant mission.”
Revolving agreement with Bowery Farming supports evaluation of high-yielding breeding lines and studies that identify genetic markers in spinach for resistance to waterborne pathogens, such as Pythium, as well as other traits beneficial for growing spinach indoors.
Pythium is a fungus-like pathogen that can cause seedling rot and damping off, destructive diseases in field production and hydroponics. “In Arkansas, we’re very good with our spinach program, which has been going on for over 50 years now,” said Ainong Shi, associate professor and vegetable breeder for the horticulture department. Shi said the Agriculture Division’s long history and expertise in spinach breeding led to a first contact with Bowery Farming in 2020.
Jim Correll, professor emeritus of entomology and plant pathology, is behind much of the spinach research with the experimental station and will work with Shi on the pythium resistance project. Correll has successfully developed a line of spinach resistant to white rust in previous research and has developed molecular markers in spinach with a focus on late blight resistant genes.
Haizheng Xiong, a program associate in the horticulture department who is also part of Shi’s team, said he selected promising spinach lines from laboratory and greenhouse studies and then from test plots in outdoors before evaluating them for indoor hydroponics. In addition to disease resistance, smooth leaf texture is a desired trait for easier washing, Xiong said. Other desired characteristics include taste, color, nutritional components, leaf shape, growth rate and yield, Shi noted.
Much of the research for Xiong and Shi involves molecular breeding – genetic mapping and genome selection of different lines of spinach and arugula. Field studies are conducted at the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville and at the Vegetable Research Station near Kibler. With information from laboratory and field studies, researchers hope to obtain a more detailed genetic map of the plants and find a lineage resistant to Pythium.
Shi noted that molecular breeding includes marker-assisted breeding and genomic breeding. This selection process is not considered genetic modification or genome editing and does not result in genetically modified organisms (GMOs), he said.
Screening for spinach and arugula lines in indoor hydroponic systems will be done by Ryan Dickson, Assistant Professor of Greenhouse and Controlled Environment Horticulture.
“Pythium is one of the major factors limiting spinach production in hydroponics, and targeted breeding efforts for Pythium resistance along with better performance in indoor growing systems is a logical next step,” Dickson said. “Identifying spinach and arugula lines with true Pythium resistance would be a huge achievement and game-changer for the industry.”
Bowery Farming and the Agriculture Division have a framework in place to deal with any inventions resulting from this research.
Dickson’s program conducts applied research for the greenhouse and controlled environment industries, with a particular focus on improving root zone health for crops grown hydroponically and in soilless growing media. In addition to research on mitigating water-borne diseases, such as Pythium, Dickson’s team conducts research related to root zone nutrient and pH management, irrigation, and soil quality. water, and the evaluation of new above-ground and sustainable growing media.