Innovation Agri-Tech Group (IAG) and the University of Essex have secured funding from independent grant-making charity The Wolfson Foundation to develop a £3.5 million “state-of-the-art” facility dedicated to plant productivity research.
The Smart Technology Experimental Plant Suite (STEPS) will be based at the university’s Colchester campus.
Comprised of four unique environmental growing rooms, its focus will be on future-proofing crop production for an increasing global population, as well as boosting climate resilience.
Kate Brunswick, Business Development Director at IAG, said: “We know the global population is growing – and predicted to continue to do so rapidly. The traditional methods of farming and food production alone are not enough. The capability to provide adequate nutritional food, will continue to be a world-wide challenge as demand increases.”
As part of the STEPS facility, IAG will install its patented GrowFrame – a modular vertical farming system which uses aeroponic irrigation and closed loop water recycling to provide water and nutrients.
The system utilises no pesticides and IAG claims it can produce a healthier root system and superior crop growth than traditional farming.
IAG’s GrowFrame will be part of a wider system which uses AI, environmental sensors and water management systems to grow plants in a “fully automated and adjustable environment”.
The University of Essex has an extensive track record of working within plant productivity, and has one of the longest established whole plant physiology and photosynthesis groups in the UK.
This new addition will allow the university to further its “world-leading” research, according to School of Life Sciences Professor Tracy Lawson. Lawson also sits on the IAG advisory board.
She said: “It will elevate our cross-disciplinary research and work with business stakeholders to address some of the key challenges in the agriculture and horticulture sector.
“STEPS will also provide a unique platform for community engagement and outreach to increase the visibility of plant science research and highlight the global challenges in this area.”
The £3.5 million facility is expected to open by the summer of 2023.
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