I should not have been surprised by this fact, but I learned recently that around 70% of the UK is taken up by farmland. That’s around 18 million hectares covered by agriculture. If you’re like me, upon hearing that fact you probably can’t help but wonder whether there could be a more efficient and sustainable way to grow crops.
Apparently I’m not the only one thinking this. According to The Wildlife Trusts, that remaining 30% alone isn’t able to sustain our country’s wildlife, and that’s a big problem with so much of farmland being drenched in chemicals and fertilizers that make the British countryside a much more hostile habitat.
One solution to this problem has been to move our crops indoors. This is not a new idea. After all, the humble greenhouse has been around since the 17th century, and the modern concept of vertical farming is now over 20 years old.
Recently, however, a firm in Derbyshire was awarded a grant of £500,000 to develop new technologies that they hope will greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of growing indoor crops.
Light Science Technologies (LST) was awarded the grant by Innovate UK as part of an initiative to improve the sustainability of UK agriculture with the goal of creating a new type of lighting and sensor system for use in vertical farming, greenhouses, polytunnels and in the growth of medicinal plants. This new technology will make use of interchangeable LEDs and data monitoring that will help reduce costs and energy usage, and generate maximum yields.
This intelligent LED grow-lighting system from LST is to be the first of its kind and, if successful, would hopefully lead to greater advances in this type of sustainable farming. With climate change becoming an ever-present threat, these new technologies are becoming a lucrative and essential part of the industry landscape. As LST’s founder and chief executive Simon Deacon says:
“Due to the shorter growing seasons, unpredictable climatic conditions and heavy reliance on manual labour processes, the UK struggles to produce enough food to meet demand.”
It’s easy to dream about the implications for the rest of the world too. If more farming were to be moved into highly space-efficient facilities, countries may not need to be so reliant on overseas imports, meaning reduced emissions and costs. Forests and habitats for wildlife might be given a better chance of returning, leading to more biodiversity. Nations with challenging climates might become more self-sufficient, and growing seasons could be extended meaning more reliable food sources for developing countries.
Eventually of course, caution and pragmatism are always necessary for tempering blue-sky thinking such as this. For one, indoor crops will only become truly sustainable when the energy they use comes form renewable sources, and the infrastructure needed for that is a long way off for a lot of nations. It is clear, however, that there is growing demand for solutions that look to the future of agriculture and which in turn drive innovation in other areas.
Due to the shorter growing seasons, unpredictable climatic conditions and heavy reliance on manual labour processes, the UK struggles to produce enough food to meet demand.