With the diversity of advanced technologies available for growers to save labor, automate processes, and control their greenhouse environments, there’s one important human element that’s missing from most operations: a greenhouse engineer.
“We’ve seen growers shut down possible technologies because they don’t understand how to use them, or they don’t use a system to its full potential” says Peter Ling, associate professor at The Ohio State University (OSU) Department of Food, Agriculture, and Biological Engineering. “And, if technology breaks down, they don’t know how to fix it.”
These are driving forces behind a new specialization at the Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI) in Wooster, Ohio. The two-year Greenhouse Engineering Technology specialization is the only one of its kind in the country, and it’s a partnership between ATI and OSU. The degree merges studies in traditional horticulture technology, engineering, and new greenhouse technology.
“We want to train our students as technicians so they can help growers,” Ling says. “They understand horticulture and technology. They understand how to use advanced computer controls to maintain an ideal environment for plants.”
Greenhouse Engineering Technology students learn to use sensors, control strategies, actuators, and electro-mechanical equipment. They also work with smart irrigation systems, pesticide application equipment, and materials handling systems.
“To us, the key is for growers to understand the potential of the technology and to be able to use it to its full potential,” Ling says, relating that one student in last year’s graduating class had four job offers on the table. “We are getting a great response from the industry. It shows us that we need to train more students to supply the demand.”