Per crop approach vital to future of vertical farming

KEY players from the world of Controlled Environment Agriculture have come together to explore best practice in vertical farming, to help accelerate the development of the industry in a sustainable way.

The collaboration centred around the Innovate UK-funded INFINiTE project (Integrated Farming Technology), which focused on optimising technology in areas such as sensor integration, lighting development, nutrient delivery, and growth trials.

Recently concluded, the project has proven that flexibility is key, and that technologies for vertical farming systems should be designed with the output or crop in mind, to ensure optimum yields and energy efficiency.

Project partners were Fotenix, working alongside the CHAP Fine Phenotyping Laboratory based at Rothamsted Research and Liberty Produce (Larch Foundry), which along with CHAP, co-runs the Innovation Hub for Controlled Environment Agriculture (IHCEA) at the James Hutton Institute.

Liberty Produce’s involvement in the project has led to the launch of the Future Farming Hub, as a research and development service for growers to access, test and optimise crop growing conditions. Alexander Giles, Commercial Director of Liberty Produce, said: “The truth is that there is no simple answer to how we solve the problem of producing enough food sustainably, without harming the planet.

“This project highlighted what’s possible when parties work in collaboration towards a common goal. Technology development for the sector must respond to grower and crop needs. Determining a crop’s needs requires swathes of data from researchers to confirm optimum conditions and potential opportunities for abiotic manipulation.

“This project is the start of and part of a much bigger agricultural ecosystem which will continue to grow to reduce the impact of crop production on the environment.”

Together, areas of best practice were identified, for example the development of per-crop specifications, detailing the optimum growing media, light recipe and nutrient levels.

Charles Veys, Managing Director of Fotenix, said: “CEA Innovators have developed the infrastructure to reproduce production environment recipes, this project was about developing tools to provide dynamic operation of lighting and nutrient factors based on the plant’s response.”

Martin Squire, Innovation Sector Lead for CHAP, said: “Controlled environment agriculture is an area of strategic importance for CHAP, so we were delighted to be a part of this consortium.

“Bringing together stakeholders with valuable sector expertise has enabled this project to point towards the next steps in vertical farming innovation, and what the not-so-distant future might look like.”

For more information on the consortium’s work within CEA, contact enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk and for Liberty Produce, alexander@liberty-produce.com