Growing media considerations

Ask the Experts - Growing media

Berger Director of Technical Services Pierre-Marc de Champlain gives his thoughts on growing media and substrates in indoor produce production.

November 17, 2020

Pierre-Marc de Champlain
Photo courtesy of Berger

What is the greatest challenge when producing food or other consumables?

From the perspective of the growing mix, food safety is an aspect that has become more and more important. Berger is ISO 9001-certified, which means quality control is extremely important to us. With growing media being increasingly used for a wide variety of consumables, Berger has been very pro-active when addressing these markets and has tried to stay ahead of the curve by rapidly implementing a food safety program. This led us to adding new equipment and procedures in order to address the growing demand for products that are safe for food production.

What else can be done to prevent potential contaminations?

It’s all about monitoring and rigorous testing in key areas of our operations implemented through our quality control program. We have analyzed all our processes to determine what we need to test for and where we need to pull samples. We also monitor our entire supply chain for common food safety indicators (total coliforms, fecal coliforms, E. coli, …) and have implemented additional security measures to further reduce the risks of contaminations throughout the manufacturing process.

How can using a quality substrate help growers address this challenge?

You want your mix to work for you, not against you. If the physical or chemical characteristics of your mix aren’t adjusted correctly or are uneven, you can encounter major problems. Any time spent correcting these issues is not spent managing other important aspects of operations. Moreover, if these issues cannot be corrected and lead to a significant reduction in sellable produce, the economical impact can be consequential. Using a substrate from a reputable supplier with a solid quality control program like Berger will ensure you get uniform and predictable results.

When producing young plants, what are the characteristics you look for in a growing media?

This is a critical step as seedlings are very susceptible to diseases. Growers want a substrate that allows them to develop strong root balls which maximizes transplant success. The fertilizer starter charge should be well balanced, but low enough to prevent stretching. The growing mix should have a finer particle size since you want to maintain a uniform moisture around the seed throughout the germination process. However, too much moisture can also be problematic. Fine or coarse grade perlite can be added to give additional drainage. Recent research we have done with fine grade wood fiber has shown tremendous results and has led to the creation of our new BM2 NF Wood products. The combination of fine grade peat moss and wood fiber promotes phenomenal root development and helps produce stalky transplantable seedlings.

Does Berger offer any additional services to customers that produce food?

A final inspection report is available for each bale or bag of mix we deliver. Upon request, we can offer additional assurance by providing a third-party food safety analysis report specific to the product a customer received. The tolerance levels are determined with our customers as there currently aren’t any industry accepted standards for growing media. Moreover, our grower advisors are available to support our customers in all aspects of their operation. Whether related to food production, selecting the right growing media or any other part of the operation, our technical services team is available.

For more information:
Pierre-Marc de Champlain
Director of Technical Services