Indoor farming research has received a boost with the launch of two new centres in North Yorkshire.
Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) has invested in two new state-of-the-art agri-tech facilities – the Vertical Farming Development Centre and Advanced Glasshouse Facility based at Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) near Selby, North Yorkshire.
Officially opening the new facilities, which are supported by Innovate UK, Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams said: “It is exciting to see all the research and development going on for this sector. We recently had the second reading of the Agriculture Bill and I would have liked to have seen a little more in this about producing food.
“It is important farmers are able to deliver quality products to the market place; the work you are doing here is incredibly important.”
Dr David George of STC said the organisation aimed to help the link between academia and use of research and development on farm. “There is still a 10-15-year lag time from good ideas to use on farm. It’s too long. CHAP is designed to reduce the lag time.”
In the Vertical Farming Development Centre, Dr Rhydian Beynon-Davies, head of growing systems at STC, explained that there are two compartments where heating, ventilation, cooling and irrigation could be controlled independently. “Control of heating, ventilation and cooling makes up 20 per cent of the energy cost. The energy cost is the biggest cost in terms of operational costs with electricity accounting for 40 per cent of operating costs.”
Research will look at ways to reduce this cost.
Four tiers of cropping racks are lit by 780m of Arize LED lighting, delivering a balanced spectrum of red and blue wavelengths that will help boost the development of a broad range of plants, according to lighting systems supplier Current, powered by GE.
Plants currently being grown in the facility include mustard, kale and basil. Manipulation of LED lighting can influence characteristics such as taste, explained Dr Beynon-Davies. “For basil the percentage of blue in the light spectrum makes a massive difference to volatile compounds.”
Crops produced in the facility are sold to a local distributer so a validated business model can be developed.
The Advanced Glasshouse Facility at STC has three compartments and there is more flexibility in how it can be used compared with a standard greenhouse, explained Dr George. “There is a structure to allow screening off of sections of greenhouse – they are not completely isolated but if you don’t want a pest or disease moving around as much you can use the screens.”
Air sampling in a tomato crop is being carried out and e-nose technology employed to see whether the crop has picked up disease.
Useful biopesticides may be being missed because of the requirement to follow European Patent Office (EPO) guidelines where methodologies are not always suitable for these types of substance, said STC’s Dr David George.
“With synthetics [conventional pesticides] following the same protocols works but we need different methodologies as not all biopesticides are the same.”
Spraying methods for biopesticides for field use are also being trialled at STC. High levels of contact between the biopesticide and plant are usually needed, said Dr George. “Because of this we always assumed we should go with a reasonably high water rate, but this is not the case as if you go a little bit past the label rate it washes off the plant. You are better off with a lower water rate.”
STC has a precision field sprayer which allows very accurate spray trials. “We need this when dealing with biopesticides. A lot of the industry thinks you can treat them in the same way as synthetics but you need to think about water rates, time of day and storage. This is why we are seeing lots of variability – they are sensitive to environmental parameters.”