Research project Wood fiber substrates as an alternative to peat for a future more sustainable technology-based horticulture industry

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Bart Vandecasteele

Bart Vandecasteele

Expert in sustainable growing media


General introduction

The primary goal of SUBTECH is to develop environmental friendly solutions for future plant production in wood-fiber-based substrates. SUBTECH facilitates more sustainable and resource efficient production systems for the horticultural industry. New growing media based on wood fibers reduce peat extraction and the related greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands and stimulate the use of renewable (forestry) resources in agriculture. Precise fertigation based on model prediction (Big Data) and sensor technology that can reduce environmental pollution and save water resources, leading simultaneously to higher yields with improved quality (foodwaste reduction). This, in general, will improve plant health by reducing pest and disease pressure, thereby reducing the need for pesticide and herbicide use and improving food safety.

Research approach

New fully functional wood fiber-based growing media for professional hydroponic plant production were developed and tested. Wood fiber from spruce was applied as a stand-alone substrate for strawberry production in tunnels, and also the reuse of the wood fiber substrate was succesfully tested. Optimized fertilization and watering strategies for the novel substrates based on sensor monitoring were developed. New knowledge on plant growth in selected sustainable wood-fiber based substrate prototypes was gathered and communicated. The new promising growing media are now ready to be tested and evaluated by professional Norwegian growers.


In the last hundred years, one third of the peatlands in Norway have been destroyed. The peatlands are threatened by peat extraction, agriculture and urban development. The EU has also officially stated that use of peat in the horticultural industry is a concern and political pressure on reducing peat use continues. Developing peat free media is a crucial issue for a sustainable future for the horticultural industry. Additional knowledge about plant nutrition requirements and sensor based fertigation will improve our understanding of plant physiology and make horticulture more precise and resource efficient. SUBTECH changes the way of thinking about growing media.


Norwegian Research Council