2nd December 2022
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Controlled Environment Agriculture Corporate EMEA

Vertical Future Successfully Completes Agrichemical Usage Reduction Research Project Supported By Innovate UK

Vertical Future CEA Research

With no agrichemical inputs, Vertical Future has successfully completed research to create a new method of delivering sustainable fresh fruit.

The study to create a new method of delivering sustainable fresh food with no agrichemical inputs has been successfully completed by Vertical Future, the fastest-growing next-generation vertical farming technology firm in the UK.

Vertical Future, NIAB, and Zayndu Ltd. collaborated to lead the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Heirloom Optimisation & Pathogen Control for Seeds (CHOPS) project. Innovate UK provided funding for the study.

The project’s main goal was to maximize yields while minimizing pathogen contamination of seeds used in CEA. By increasing efficiency and reducing losses, the study will successfully guarantee that crops become more inexpensive and of higher quality. It will also enhance the exports of CEA equipment built in the UK.

Different agrochemicals are necessary for both conventional and organic agriculture to keep crops healthy and meet volume requirements. The demand for agrichemicals has decreased as a result of CEA’s efforts to relocate crop cultivation away from fields and the disease stresses that come from the atmosphere and soils.

The major cause of illnesses in CEA facilities is the seed’s outer shell. It is preferable for consumers and the environment to do away with the need for this procedure completely, even though agrochemicals might be employed to eliminate the sources of illness. A seed pre-treatment technique developed by the Vertical Future-led initiative employs just air and electricity to destroy any fungus or bacteria on the surface of the seed and to promote the growth of the germination plant. When used on a large scale, this pre-treatment will eliminate the main disease-causing agents in CEA facilities while also increasing yields and creating tastier and more nutrient-dense food.

For many years, seeds have been created for broadacre cultivation. Many of these optimizations aim to lessen illness, which is important for cultivating crops in erratic outside conditions. Focus has shifted away from flavor and nutrient density as a result. Seeds for CEA conditions may be bred to improve flavor and nutrition without having to concentrate on increasing disease resistance. The method also enables the use of older “heirloom” seed types in CEA, enabling the revival of lost flavors.

The CHOPS study has shown yield gains of more than 6x using heritage varieties in comparison to types currently being utilized in the field.

“As a consequence of the initiative, we have already produced crops, like spinach, with considerably superior flavors than their conventional competitors,” said Jamie Burrows, founder and CEO of Vertical Future. “We may transfer our knowledge to other crops by identifying genetic markers that have a favorable influence on flavor and nutrition using DNA sequencing. If viruses can be eliminated from seeds before planting without the use of pesticides, the insights learned from this experiment will be even more valuable. Agriculture might be entering a new age. This innovation might put a stop to the overuse of pesticides in crop production and usher in a more sustainable farming future. By enhancing germination and yield, the seed treatment has also shown to be a biostimulant, highlighting the broader advantages of the approach. Together with us, NIAB developed a high-health seed methodology. Because of this help, the CEA sector now has a stronger system in place for testing and certifying seeds, resulting in healthier, more productive crops. We are currently assessing the following stage of our R&D work with Zayndu and have already scheduled a follow-up to this project with NIAB, looking at soft fruit seed material.”

“Application of cutting-edge indoor farming technology to heritage varieties, many of which have great flavor and nutritional benefits, gives a path back to the mainstream market for these pre-existing varieties”, according to Dr. Tom Wood, NIAB, Research Program Leader – Plant Pathology. “In order to bring these types back to people’s plates in a sustainable manner, the natural marriage of NIAB’s expertise in seed health with Zayndu’s cold plasma sterilise technology and Vertical Future’s indoor farming techniques is ideal. Assuring growers that they are not introducing potentially dangerous organisms into their CEA systems will assist to boost growers’ confidence, and this will help to minimize disease outbreaks.”

The CEO of Zayndu, Ralph Weir, stated: “We’re turning plant breeding upside down. Breeders may return to thinking about flavor and stop concentrating on disease resistance. More flavor will be available to consumers at a lesser price by combining Zayndu’s technology with Vertical Future’s capacity to grow in pathogen-free CEA conditions and NIAB’s seed and plant health knowledge. “Really changes the game!”

Image provided by Vertical Future.

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