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Biosubstrate: Developing a sustainable alternative to traditional growing media

On Monday the 3rd of June the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University hosted an Open House event: “BIOSUBSTRATE 2.0”. Focus of the event was challenges and opportunities with alternative growing media when growing soft berry fruit and the environmental factors influencing root development.

Photo: Canva

Approximately 40 guests made their way to the Department of Food Science, Aarhus University facilities in Agro Food Park, Skejby and a number of visitors joined the event online. Thayna Mendanha from the Department of Food Science is very pleased with the interest and participation, and hopes everyone had a rewarding afternoon.

“The interesting thing about this event is that so many different perspectives were present. The whole supply chain in growing media was represented. Private companies working on alternatives to peat. A big traditional peat company like Pindstrup participating and is looking to source new alternative material. Universities and research institutions in combination with DTI (Danish Technological Institute) are looking to improve and better process the new materials, and to estimate their carbon footprint. And finally, the growers attended, who are testing the new materials in their greenhouses” she explains.

Where the first BIOSUBSTRATE project was focused on screening new material, looking at the potential use, and whether it was available in large quantities or not, BIOSUBSTRATE 2.0 is more focussed on combining the alternative materials in order to increase the available volume to substitute traditional peat.

Thayna Mendanha explains: “One single material does not seem to be the solution. We are looking at combining materials, for instance wood fibres from sawmills or papermills, compost, bark or mischantus. In Denmark we discovered positive effects with the use of byproduct from biogas companies. It is actually quite a positive story, as the biogas industry is rapidly growing. Private companies like Pindstrup are already using biomass fibres in growing bags for the hobby gardeners.”

Next steps

Future focus will be changing the mindset and practices of the professional growers in terms of analysing, fertilising and irrigation, as the alternative growing media are not fully comparable to traditional peat. Also, the positive results obtained so far, are based on smaller tests, therefore next step should be about upscaling the trials.