student projects

Strengthening farm income and enhancing human nutrition by altering how crops are grown and valued
doctoral project natalie r. Bumgarner, Horticulture and crop science Matthew d. Kleinhenz, Horticulture and crop science, advisor Fresh food crops have two distinct values. There is the income farmers make by selling them, and there is the nutritional value they offer consumers. Clearly, farmers aim to strengthen their business each season, and consumers are increasingly concerned about the nutritional content of their produce. Thus, clarifying the factors that influence income potential and nutritional value in major crops can benefit both groups. This project set out to discover how growing conditions — i.e. temperature, soil nutrients — affect these values in lettuce. Lettuce was studied because it is the second-most consumed vegetable in the United States, but it ranks 26th among common fruits and vegetables in nutritional value. Therefore, even small increases in key lettuce dietary constituents achieved through improved management may benefit consumers significantly. A key obstacle is that farmers are typically paid for the amount, rather than the nutritional value, of fresh vegetables they supply. The abundance or weight of crops, but not their nutritional content, tends to be greatest when growing conditions are ideal. The project’s key questions were whether a system can be devised that produces large quantities of nutritionally dense vegetables, as well as whether this system can succeed in the most challenging growing conditions — during fall and winter. Crop production and marketing from fall to spring is increasingly common in northern latitudes such as Ohio. Farmers benefit from the income, and consumers enjoy

natalie r. Bumgarner

the extended supply of fresh, locally grown, and nutritious vegetables. Unfortunately, cold, dimly lit fall and winter days make vegetable production difficult. Improved nutrient and temperature management schemes may help lessen this challenge. The research team documented the effects of multiple fertility programs and root- and shoot-zone heating strategies (applied in open field and high tunnel settings in the fall and spring of two years) on many farmer- and consumer-oriented variables, including crop abundance and composition. The team also calculated the nutritional yield of each treatment — the amount of dietary and nutritional components it provided. Tracking nutritional yield can help farmers balance their roles as generators of income and engines of health. The project yielded several insights on how this balance can be achieved through crop management. As expected, many treatments resulted in few, small leaves with a high nutritional index or many larger leaves with a low nutritional index. However, a few treatments yielded a relatively large leaf mass bearing a moderately high nutritional index. These treatments tended to feature moderate temperature and nutrient levels and above-average light levels. Developing methods with the greatest potential to benefit farmers and consumers will continue. The next step is to explore ways to improve the efficiency and sustainability of these new “high-achieving” systems.

Even small increases in key lettuce dietary constituents achieved through improved management may benefit consumers significantly.


SEEDS: The OARDC Research Enhancement Competitive Grants Program

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