Virtual Grower was designed and released by USDA ARS to help greenhouse growers determine heating costs with simulations to figure out where heat savings could be achieved. Additional features were added and Virtual Grower now has the capability to predict crop growth, assist in scheduling, make real-time predictions of energy use, and see the impact of supplemental lighting on plant growth and development. The software can be a safety net and allow users to experiment with “what if” scenarios in a risk-free setting.
Virtual Grower 3.0, released in August 2011, is the first version to be supported by both Mac and PC. Returning users will find the same easy-to-use sections for designing greenhouse structures, heating systems and lighting systems, and adding up to 40 plant species or varieties to your simulation. Users can now enter a target finish date and back track to predict a start date from the plug stage. The new version has nearly 800 locations across the United States, which increased by more than 500 sites. Dual-stage heating systems are now accommodated in the new version. Another exciting feature is the ability to view photographs and track down information for all the crops included in the software. All of these features are supported with graphics including a location map, photographs, responsive schematic drawings, and graphs and charts of the output.