Honors Gallery

Virtual grower software for greenhouse crop production

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2012

Award Type:

Region: Midwest

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) - Midwest Area

Virtual Grower is a decision support software program designed to assist greenhouse growers and users by predicting heating and energy use specific to their location, greenhouse design, crops produced, and management preferences.

Virtual Grower brings together several existing and new models, model components, and model approaches so that playing “what-if ” simulations in one area (e.g., changes in energy use) will influence other areas (e.g., growth and development rates) in a safe virtual environment. Virtual Grower has been disseminated primarily through a website (www.virtualgrower.net).

CD copies of the program have been distributed to industry professionals through site visits, scientific conferences, and industry trade shows, while scientific and popular press articles about Virtual Grower have spread the word about the software’s capabilities. The software has been incorporated into floriculture curriculums at universities across the United States. The online tutorial videos demonstrate the abilities of the program and guide users through the layout of the system.

The software has been incorporated into floriculture curriculums at universities across the United States.

The development and distribution of this novel tool have helped greenhouse owners/operators save millions of dollars in energy costs by identifying easy-to-make changes in management or structures, helped hundreds of students around the country learn about greenhouse operation, and assisted dozens of greenhouse growers with building new, energy-efficient structures or additions.

Although the weather database includes only U.S. sites, the software has been downloaded over 10,000 times since its release in over 50 countries and is being utilized on all continents. The Spanish and French versions have expanded the reach of software users. Tutorial videos off er the opportunity for users to educate themselves—and revisit areas of the software—in a comfortable setting. In addition, the software has given growers the power to test ideas themselves as an alternative to the recommendations of salesmen or the expense of hiring consultants.