A Cornish plant factory

Climate change, water shortage and insufficient agricultural available land are considered to be the main threats to crop production around the world.

Coupled with a predicted increase of the world’s population from 7 billion in 2011 to 9.3 billion in 2050, a significant increase in crop yield is required to provide the increasing population with safe affordable food. However, natural resources, especially land, are limited and therefore higher yields and increased cropping intensity are needed to meet global crop production demands. 

The availability of fresh water for agricultural activity is also one of the main limitations for crop production and although it is globally more than sufficient, it is unevenly distributed and even in rain-fed agricultural systems drought limits crop production. Therefore, in order to feed the world, overcome climate change challenges, reduce crop losses caused by biotic and abiotic stresses, improve health, and achieve economic growth, radical new approaches are needed. One such approach is plant factory systems supplemented with artificial lighting – these are a growing reality for year round production of various crop species.

As part of the European Regional Development Funded Agri-Tech Cornwall project, we’re aiming to establish a plant factory unit at the University of Plymouth where we can develop LED lighting and control systems to facilitate the development of multi-tier, environmentally controlled growing facilities for urban and rural settings.

The power of solar

One of the main novel concepts of the research is the use of solar power as an energy supply for the plant factory unit. We focus specifically on prototyping lights delivering a colour spectrum that is matched to the photosynthetic and developmental needs of plants, and developing the control systems and software that manages the lights throughout the growing cycle of plants. The project will develop, test and modify the lights in a purpose built test facility in order to produce the right LED lighting solution that meets the technical and commercial needs of growers and propagators.

A major new horticulture supply model

By producing a standardised controlled LED light system that can be readily and easily adapted for the growing of specific crops we hope to facilitate the development of a major new horticulture supply model in the market. The effect of specific LED lighting spectra on the active ingredients of some pharmaceutical herbs and medicinal plants will also be investigated, opening up the opportunity to extend the technology to other aspects of horticultural growing, thus developing a new high-quality low-carbon supply chain for the sector.

Plant Factory Cornwall

The project aims to facilitate the development and expansion of hydroponic, multi-tier controlled growing environments utilising renewable energy to provide low carbon semi-automated crop production for urban and rural settings. The project will apply existing and new technology to facilitate the development of a new model of horticultural propagation and growing, to develop new higher quality options for the horticultural sector tailored to the consumer market and with lower carbon supply options.

Factory conditions could alleviate climate threat to plant production

Sphere article: A Cornish plant factory

For more information contact Dr Mick Fuller or Yve Metcalfe-Tyrrell

Agri-Tech Cornwall

The University of Plymouth are proud to be a partner on the Agri-Tech Cornwall project, a £10 million initiative to help the United Kingdom become a world leader in agricultural technology and sustainability.

Researchers from the University will share their expertise and collaborate with small and medium-sized Cornish companies to research the future sustainability of the sector.

Find out more about the project