The University of Essex has received a major funding boost to support its world-leading plant productivity research. The funding will be used to create a state-of-the-art indoor crop growth facility: Smart Technology Experimental Plant Suite (STEPS).
Major project contributor, pioneering agricultural technology company, Innovation Agri-Tech Group (IAG), will install its innovative and patented GrowFrame™ modular system. This uses aeroponic irrigation and closed loop water recycling. The system provides water and highly precise nutrients without pesticides. This method has also been proven to produce a healthier root system and superior crop growth.
Independent grant-making charity, The Wolfson Foundation has pledged £1 million to support the development of the STEPS facility at Essex’s Colchester Campus. This in order to explore how best to future-proof crop production in a changing world. At the forefront of plant productivity research, the University of Essex has one of the longest established plant physiology and photosynthesis groups in the UK.
Chief Executive of The Wolfson Foundation, Paul Ramsbottom Said:
“New and improved farming methods will be crucial to solving some of the great challenges of the 21st century. Not least global food security—especially in the context of a changing climate. The University of Essex has an impressive track record in crop science. And we are delighted to be supporting these experimental facilities. We hope they will assist in making important new breakthroughs in sustainable food production.”
Through the installation, the University of Essex will have an unrivalled facility for extended education. This includes UK outreach, research, experimentation and knowledge transfer. Each will contribute to the real-world application of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).
Innovation Agri-Tech Group: Delivering Real-World Solutions
The STEPS facility will extend the activities initiated by the Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC). This already has strong links working with IAG and environmental industries to deliver solutions to real-word problems.
The GrowFrame™ will be part of a wider advanced technology system. Moreover, it will include Artificial Intelligence (AI), environmental sensors and water management systems. IAG will provide and install all of these technologies to enable the growth of plants in a fully automated and adjustable environment.
Sustainable Agricultural Production
In an effort to drive change in sustainable agricultural productivity, alongside building climate resilience, IAG provides solutions to conventional farming challenges. This will revolutionise the way we grow food on a global scale.
Project spearhead, key member of the IAG advisory board and renowned plant physiologist, Professor Tracy Lawson from Essex’s School of Life Sciences says:
“We are delighted to have been awarded this funding from the Wolfson Foundation. This unique facility will build on our world-leading strengths in plant productivity research. And allow us to exploit the latest technologies to improve key plant processes.”
Kate Brunswick, IAG Business Development Director Says:
“The investment and funding from The Wolfson Foundation into STEPS is a fantastic moment for the whole industry. 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. Since 2017, the mission of IAG is to provide a cost-effect solution that can be used on a global scale. To grow food to help feed increasing populations. Especially in urban spaces or where arable farming is depleting the land due to over-farming.”
Kate went on to add:
“Collaborating with Professor Tracy Lawson and her team at the University of Essex, we’re confident that our technology will help lead the way in future-proofing food security and building climate resilience. It is a hugely exciting project to be a part of, and one that is personally close to our own objectives. 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, which is due to open in the summer of 2023, will also include four unique environmental grow rooms.
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