RIPEHouse to unlock next generation of sustainable growing

The development of a novel low-carbon production system for controlled environment agriculture is now underway, following the launch of the new RIPEHouse project.

This multi-faceted project will harness the benefits of ‘natural light growing’ alongside bespoke biostimulant formulations, to help optimise the nutrition, flavour and sustainability credentials of fresh produce.

Funded by Defra and UKRI, the work is being conducted by a consortium that includes CHAP, RIPE Building Services, the University of Warwick, Evoponic Ltd, Mudwalls Farm Ltd and Valefresco Ltd.

CHAP Innovation Network Lead Dr Harry Langford said: “Unlike glass, ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) film transmits full spectrum sunlight into the growing area. The benefits of this are starting to be explored at CHAP’s Natural Light Growing (NLG) Centre, a structure clad in ETFE.

“The RIPEHouse project plans to take this one step further, by combining natural light growing with the use of bespoke biostimulant products. This will enable UK growers to deliver high quality, lower carbon produce compared to that of traditional glasshouse systems.

“Once completed, this could mean a real step-change for the way in which we grow fresh produce in the UK.”

The RIPEHouse project aims to develop and validate the natural light growing system to enable two cycles of production per year for crops such as baby cucumbers. While doing so, it hopes to demonstrate carbon-efficient conditions through comparative trials, versus conventional glasshouse production.

Finally, the project will investigate market-disruptive business models such as local food hubs and meal boxes, to respond to consumer demand for healthier diets and British-grown produce.

Founder and Managing Director of RIPE, Phillip Lee, said: “Independent testing by Campden BRI has already shown that baby cucumbers grown within the NLG Centre rank higher for taste and eating enjoyment compared to those grown in conventional systems.

“This has provided valuable evidence required to support the ethos behind the centre and the use of ETFE in commercial production.

“Furthering this by using biostimulants will enable us to explore how we can improve the resilience and health status of the plants, potentially extending the production season and reducing the reliance on traditional pesticidal products.”

Biostimulants are natural products used to stimulate plant processes such as nutrient uptake, nutrient use efficiency, and protection against abiotic stress. In doing so, this maintains plant health, as the best protection against pest and disease pressure and further plant stresses.

This could also have a positive impact on the use of fossil fuels for heating and CO2-enrichment within a controlled environment agriculture setting.

Joe Pilade, Valefresco Company Director, said: “Efficient and sustainable low-carbon production would mean growers are in a stronger position to meet supply chain demands and reduce imports.

“Meanwhile, consumer demand for creative culinary solutions is increasing, through the likes of local food hubs and meal boxes. This project coordinates many facets of sustainable production, from nurturing the seed through to marketing the harvested produce.

“We are delighted to be working on this transformative project, which is all thanks to a successful Defra-UKRI Farming Innovation Pathways (FIP) industrial research competition submission.”

Managing Director of Mudwalls Farm, George Beach, said: “Mudwalls are delighted to be able to support this brilliant growing method, by our introductions to major retailers who are already supporting this great initiative.

“In Particular, Mindful Chef, 44 Foods and MidCounties Co-op have supported natural light-grown baby cucumbers throughout the season. We look forward to lots more products being grown under this regime.”

The project work will take place at the NLG Centre, based at the University of Warwick’s Wellesbourne Campus.

For more information about the benefits of ETFE on the flavour of produce, go to NLG Centre, read our news story about the taste test results, or watch this video.

If you have any questions about CHAP, our Membership Scheme, or are interested in working with us on a specific project, then please send us an email using the enquiries form at the bottom of our homepage.