How vertical farms could be ready to take-off

30-07-2020    12:00   |    Future Farming

Study identifies future research areas needed to accelerate growth of vertical farming using aeroponics.

A new interdisciplinary study combining biology and engineering sets down steps towards accelerating the growth of vertical farming, including the use of aeroponics which uses nutrient-enriched aerosols in place of soil, reports Science Daily.

Accelerate sustainable growth of vertical farming

The study was carried out by the John Innes Centre, the University of Bristol and the aeroponic technology provider LettUs Grow. It identifies future research areas needed to accelerate the sustainable growth of vertical farming using aeroponic systems.

Dr Antony Dodd, a group leader at the John Innes Centre and senior author of the study, says: “By bringing fundamental biological insights into the context of the physics of growing plants in an aerosol, we can help the vertical farming business become more productive more quickly, while producing healthier food with less environmental impact.”

 Vertical farming is a type of indoor agriculture where crops are cultivated in stacked systems with water, lighting and nutrient sources carefully controlled. - Photo: ThisIsEngineering

Seven areas of future research

The study, which appears in the journal New Phytologist and is called Getting to the Roots of Aeroponic Indoor Farming, lays out seven steps – strategic areas of future research needed to underpin increased productivity and sustainability of aeroponic vertical farms.These seek to understand:

  1. Why aeroponic cultivation can be more productive than hydroponic or soil cultivation.
  2. The relationship between aeroponic cultivation and 24-hour circadian rhythms of plants.
  3. Root development of a range of crops in aeroponic conditions.
  4. The relationship between aerosol droplet size and deposition and plant performance.
  5. How we can establish frameworks for comparing vertical farming technologies for a range of crops.
  6. How aeroponic methods affect microbial interactions with plant roots.
  7. The nature of recycling of root exudates (fluids secreted by the roots of plants) within the nutrient solutions of closed aeroponic systems.

The report argues that a driver of technological innovation in vertical farms is minimising operation costs whilst maximising productivity – and that investment in fundamental biological research has a significant role.

Genetically tune crops to grow in vertical farms

John Innes Centre researchers have bred a line of broccoli adapted to grow indoors for a major supermarket and one of the aims of research will be to test how we can genetically tune more crops to grow in the controlled space of vertical farms.

Bethany Eldridge, a researcher at the University of Bristol studying root-environment interactions and first author of the study adds: “Given that 80% of agricultural land worldwide is reported to have moderate or severe erosion, the ability to grow crops in a soilless system with minimal fertilisers and pesticides is advantageous because it provides an opportunity to grow crops in areas facing soil erosion or other environmental issues such as algal blooms in local water bodies that may have been driven by traditional, soil-based, agriculture.”

Source: Future Farming

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