Baby leaf greens may be grown in the UK all year round thanks to a collaborative project involving Harper Adams University and salad supplier G’s.
Winter Grow, being trialled at G’s facility in East Anglia, centres on the indoor growing of baby leaf under LED lights, which can be controlled to include varying levels of light from across the colour spectrum.
This offers the potential of an alternative to the company’s current growing practises, which involve growing winter baby leaf in Italy and Spain, while growing in the UK during the warmer summer months.
Ben Barnes, the University’s project lead said: “The work is to explore two big questions: can we increase the efficiency of the propagation facility in terms of getting a more homogenous crop? And is it feasible to produce baby leaf crops during the winter at an affordable price point?
"One element of this is the development of ‘lighting recipes’ to enhance plant growth characteristics.”
The work is taking place in a shipping container. It aims to create optimum growing conditions, factoring in variables like the heat created by having the LEDs on full power all of the time, and the humidity generated from the plants.
Success in the trial would likely have an impact for G’s but also in the wider industry. The company is already collaborating with the London-based indoor farm Growing Underground, which grows salads using hydroponic techniques.
Vertical farming, where crops are either grown in stacked layers or on vertical structures, is set to play a big role in the future of agriculture. But there are still some issues to be ironed out before it becomes a mainstream production option.
Barnes explained: “One of the biggest problems with the vertical farming concept is this interaction between moisture and temperature.
You’ve got the two factors constantly fighting against each other and that ends up sucking huge amounts of energy if you’re not careful.
A second element to the project with G’s, called Smart Prop, which is supported by Innovate UK, aims to improve growth and plant strength in propagating seedlings for later planting in fields.