Automation puts researchers in control

The Core Greenhouse Complex at the University of California, Davis keeps growing … and growing. With 172 greenhouses occupying 185,000 sq. ft. (17,200 sq. m), the university has plans for expansion in the coming years.

Researchers at the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences are conducting more studies on different crops to determine how they will perform under various conditions. These experiments are becoming increasingly important as researchers seek ways to optimize crop production as the world’s increasing population puts a strain on global food supplies.

To accomplish their goals, researchers need reliable environmental controls to ensure accurate, consistent results. For example, one project involves rice production, and researchers are testing four different nutrient solutions with varying levels of nitrogen to see which amount is optimal for particular genetics.

Since the complex opened in 2003, Argus Controls has played a key role in researchers’ efforts to maintain tight parameters over their individual crop studies.

“Our researchers are focusing on some of the pressing needs that we see in society—whether it’s food security or biofuels,” says Bill Werner, Lead Greenhouse Manager at UC Davis. “That is where your growing operating system with Argus Controls is critical … so we have a lot of flexibility in what we can do.”


Titan brings versatility

Within the facility, the Argus Controls system manages basic environmental conditions, including heating/cooling, air circulation, ventilation and lighting control, in 19 greenhouses. Researchers set high and low temperatures for different crops. Maintaining those temperature ranges would be challenging in a greenhouse without reliable automated controls, Werner says.

“We have the high and low temperatures for day and the high and low temperatures for night, and that’s driven by what crops are being grown, what the researchers’ parameters are—if they’re trying to challenge a crop or if they’re trying to keep it uniform—so sometimes we have a very tight temperature range that is maintained and can be challenging in the summertime when we have really high temperatures,” Werner explains.

The important aspect for us is to have a lot of versatility and parameters that can be changed and adjusted.

- Bill Werner, Lead Greenhouse Manager

The university is in the process of updating greenhouses with the Argus Classic platform to the Titan advanced control system. Titan is an integrated solution for managing an entire greenhouse from a central command center, networked PC or mobile device. Newer greenhouses within the complex have been built from the ground up with brand new Titan control panels, according to Werner. This includes six new greenhouses where researchers are breeding peppers. Argus Titan controls all of the environmental systems, including horizontal air flow fans, supplemental lighting and irrigation.

The Titan control panels also have room to add additional control features if the college decides to expand further, Werner notes. The flexibility also enables the use of more technology in the greenhouses. In recent years, more researchers have begun bringing in their own instruments, such as wireless sensors, for more precise, real-time measurements.



Future expansion plans

The call for additional research is ongoing, with UC Davis students playing a vital role in developing sustainable crop solutions. This includes a project to develop a type of lettuce that will thrive in hot, dry climates. Another project involves vertical farming systems, which require fewer chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides, over traditional growing practices. The hydroponic system requires climate sensors to automatically adjust components and maintain the ideal growing environment and mobile software to monitor and control different components in the unit.

With more advanced research in the pipeline, UC Davis researchers will continue to rely on automation to experiment with a wide range of growing environments and conditions.

The content displayed herein showcases UCDavis' research and partnership with Argus Controls, is intended for informational purposes only, and does not constitute an endorsement of Argus products or services.

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