Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research New Innovator In Food and Agriculture Research Nomination

Dr. Ricardo Hernandez seeks to revolutionize specialty crop production by synergistically uniting new controlled environment technology (lighting), environmental recipes (plant eco-physiology), and exotic germplasm (plant genetics) to improve plant efficiency, and quality (nutritional content, flavor, morphology) of selected horticultural crops (leafy greens and compact fruiting crops). With recent developments in lighting technologies, it is now possible to optimize the production of certain crops under indoor systems (VF: vertical farms). As shown in Dr. Hernandez’s current research, distinctive light and environmental recipes are capable of manipulating plant responses to increase plant growth rate and quality (nutritional content, flavor, morphology). His research group is able to create light and environmental recipes to match desirable traits. For example, on the same cultivar, a recipe can be implemented to maximize fresh weight or to maximize phytochemical content from the same germplasm (Figure 1).

This research offers a second opportunity, to mine existing germplasm for consumer friendly traits. Varieties intended for field production must perform well under biotic and abiotic stress conditions not found in VF. Breeding to withstand these environmental and biological pressures/stresses often come at the expense of consumer friendly traits including yield, nutritional content, and flavor. Growth under VF conditions will allow Dr. Hernandez to explore exotic germplasm with the capacity of pronounced increases in plant efficiency and plant quality by matching the light and environmental recipes to its genetics.

In summary, the outcomes of the proposed research are (1) to optimize light and environmental recipes to improve plant growing efficiency and plant quality (nutritional content, flavor, and morphology) of selected horticultural cultivars; 2) based on the light and environmental recipes, develop a phenotypic strategy to screen exotic germplasm to select for genetic material with the capacity of pronounced increases in plant growing efficiency and quality.

Figure 1. ‘Red Oak’ lettuce grown under different light spectrums. All other growing conditions were maintained the same in all treatments.

If awarded, FFAR will fund innovative research for three years in the total amount of $600,000 composed of $300,000 from the foundation and $300,000 from industry cash match. NC State University requests your letter in support of Ricardo’s nomination.

If you have any additional questions, or would like to send a letter of support, please email deborah_thompson@ncsu.edu

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