5 Substrates Questions with Dr. Vijay Rapaka of Smithers Oasis

We’re looking forward to hearing from substrate guru, Dr. Vijay Rapaka of Smithers Oasis at Indoor Ag-Con Asia in Singapore on January 15-16, 2019.  Ahead of that, we caught up with him to talk smart substrates and how startups can work with the major.

How did you come to join Smithers Oasis? What is your role with the firm?

I always liked to explore, investigate, and research. My passion always used to lie around understanding and deciphering the interactions within the plant system and also with external environmental inputs. By training my expertise was plant propagation. When I was finishing my postdoc, a research position opened up at Smithers-Oasis Company to develop new products primarily for the greenhouse propagation industry. Being an adventurer, I wanted to explore the industry developing new products. There was no learning curve and I hit the ground running. This is my first Job and I truly found my dream job. Since then innovation became my passion.

I am the Corporate Global Grower Research and Development Manager. I manage research and new product development and technical support for the grower business globally.

What are the biggest changes that you’ve seen in substrates over the years? How have these changes affected growers?
Over the last few years several types of natural and sustainable substrate as well as engineered specialty media with biodegradability options became available in the market. The quality and the consistency of the substrates improved tremendously. The growers have lot more options to choose from depending on their growing systems, crops, and production practices.

What is the next frontier for substrates? What changes can we expect to see over the next decade and how will they benefit growers?
Lot of improvements have been made adjusting various chemical and physical properties to make media more responsive to the growing inputs. However, more developments are yet to come. The next generation substrates are going to be a smart substrates that will also respond to environmental inputs like light. The substrates will be engineered to compliment the light spectral qualities. The growers would be able to precisely modulate the plant morphology, growth, yields, and quality.

Smithers Oasis is usually associated with substrates, but you also have products in other areas. Which are some of the more innovative?
Yes Smithers Oasis is primarily associated with substrates. Our other innovative products include technologies to manage ethylene damage and disease in the postharvest environment, and also packaging solutions to effectively manage the cold chain during shipment.

Smithers Oasis regularly partners with up and coming indoor ag startups. What do you look for in startup partners?
Smithers Oasis overall goal is to provide complete solutions to the growers globally and make them successful. SO looks for synergies when partners with startups to offer complete solutions. We are seeing huge growth in vertical/Urban farms and that we provide free technical assistance to all growers, large and small around the world.

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