Hydroponic systems generally use a growing media (substrates), such as rock wool, coir or peat, to support plant roots and facilitate water and nutrient uptake. Unfortunately these tend to be the largest contributor to the carbon footprint of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) production, as highlighted by a recent report from the University of Coventry, commissioned by the Horticultural Trades Association and the UK Growing Media Association.
The report examines moves to remove peat as a growing media and looks at the drivers and barriers to further peat reduction. It recommends continued research and development into alternative growing media – as long as there is robust evidence that they can be reliably used for high quality performance and are responsibly sourced/manufactured – to ensure the transition towards a peat-free horticulture industry.
The continued global expansion of CEA production means it is increasingly important to find alternatives that can decarbonise agriculture while still meeting grower specifications and, critically, competing on price. In this context, the Gelponics consortium, led by AEH Innovative Hydrogel Ltd and Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), is looking at optimising and scaling up novel and sustainable hydrogel substrates (growing media) for the horticulture sector.
The project, funded through the Innovate UK ‘Transforming Food Production’ challenge, started in September 2020 and aims to demonstrate the technology’s potential to offer a cost-effective, sustainable alternative in full, semi-commercial trials for both leafy green and tomato production, using CHAP’s Vertical Farming Development Centre at Stockbridge Technology Centre.
As part of the development and optimisation phase of this project, the team at CHAP wants to better understand growing media (substrate) use across the UK horticulture sector, especially in CEA horticulture.
To that end we are running a short (5-10 minutes) survey to gather the thoughts of growers on the most important factors for their particular growing operation. All the collected data will be anonymised and the outcomes of the project will be disseminated back to the sector through demonstration, as part of the knowledge exchange element of the project.
To take part in the survey and make sure your opinions are heard, please go to Horticulture Survey.
For more information about the Gelponics project, please contact Dr Aurélie Bovi , Knowledge Exchange and Innovation Associate: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions about working with CHAP, please send us an email using the enquiries form at the bottom of our homepage.