Nottingham Trent University to address global food challenges

2 minute read

A next-generation vertical farming system is being developed in Southwell, which will address global food challenges by using hi-tech growing methods to produce nutritious fresh crops all year round.

The system, which grows vegetables, salads and fruit, stacked vertically and without the need for soil, is being designed and engineered by scientists at Nottingham Trent University, in partnership with Henley Associates Ltd.

“We are designing and engineering prototypes before carrying out a detailed feasibility study,” said Chungui Lu, professor of sustainable agriculture at the university’s school of animal, rural and environmental sciences.

Professor Chungui Lu in the university's existing container farm.
Professor Chungui Lu in the university’s existing container farm.

“We urgently need to develop new methods to enable intensive and sustainable crop production. We need an innovative container farming system that can be manufactured at low cost, is easy to install, unaffected by climates and seasons and can produce high yields with high-quality crops with a significant reduction in carbon footprint. It’s also important to reduce reliance on imports, particularly given the UK’s exit from the EU.

“Each container is capable of producing three to five tonnes of crops a year. Using novel semi-mist culture methods, this will be an advanced, energy-efficient and carbon-neutral vertical farm for on-site use at retailers, schools and other organisations.

“By the end of the project we will have a new generation of containerised vertical farming that will improve UK resilience to environmental shocks and food security, and will be beneficial for both the farming industry and society.”

They are creating two vertical farming units — one about the size of a shipping container and the other about half the size — which will act as an initial proof of concept, paving the way for more like them to be built for and used by retailers, caterers, local authorities and schools.

The aim of the project is to help reduce the UK’s reliance on imported produce, feed a rising urban population and tackle the challenge of decreasing arable land.

The container farming system will be capable of producing fresh food which is more nutritious, have far bigger yields and are ready to harvest in at least half the time. It will operate without the need for favourable weather, fertile soil, lots of water and the usual high-running costs associated with the crop sector. Solar panels will provide electricity to run the whole system.

The vertical farm will be created, subject to planning permission, over the next two years — one based at Brackenhurst and the other in Grantham.

Charles Brunton, director and project manager at Henley Associates, said: “This vertical farming project brings a combination of our farming and engineering expertise to the partnership. Food production has forever relied upon favourable weather and suitable soil. Vertical farming negates both of these factors — especially weather — as global warming takes effect worldwide, as has been witnessed in the UK over the past few years, resulting in failed crops, resown crops and reduction in yields.”

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