ICBA evaluates new vertical farming system for arid conditions
Scientists at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) are assessing a new vertical farming system better adapted for hot and arid environments such as the UAE.
As part of a study under way at ICBA’s research station in Dubai in collaboration with the South Korean company AgroTech Co. Ltd., the scientists are looking to develop, test and introduce a sustainable vertical farming system that can help to increase agricultural production in hot and arid conditions while consuming much less water and energy compared to standard systems.
The study will help to generate important data on resources required for vertical farming systems in environments like the UAE.
Most of the available data for vertical farming systems has been collected mainly in countries of Europe and the Far East. So, it is necessary to estimate the quantity of resources used for growing various vegetables and fruits in vertical farming systems and analyze how these requirements are affected by external conditions in hot and arid climates.
Agricultural production is usually constrained in hot and arid ecosystems by a range of biophysical factors, including freshwater scarcity and extreme heat. And vertical farming is considered as one of the approaches to producing food with limited resources. It has the potential to provide a year-round supply of quality produce using less water compared to traditional greenhouses.
According to Dr. Hicham Fatnassi, a senior horticulture scientist at ICBA: “Vertical farming systems, including container-based ones, are particularly suited to offset the effects of climate change since they have controlled climate parameters, including temperature, humidity, light and carbon dioxide concentration. Despite all the benefits, these systems also have a major drawback: they need a significant amount of energy for artificial lighting required for photosynthesis, air conditioning for cooling and dehumidification etc. The cooling, fertigation and lighting systems currently use power from grids or generators as there is a need for a consistent supply of electricity. To maximize the benefits, they need to be operated sustainably with minimum use of resources and minimum carbon dioxide emissions and environmental pollutants. For this reason, we are studying how to optimize use of resources such as light (intensity, quality and duration) and nutrients and develop a model adapted to local climatic conditions and replicable in similar environments around the world.”
The study will result in the development of technical guidelines focusing on crop production practices to optimize water use efficiency in arid climates.
In particular, the guidelines will explain the basics of good practices in vertical farming in arid climates. They will also cover such topics as climate control, cropping systems, practices that reduce water and energy use, and use of adapted cultivars, among other things.
The scientists plan to grow different high-value crops, including strawberries and medicinal herbs.
The study is part of ICBA’s broader research efforts on controlled-environment agriculture aimed at improving food security, nutrition and environmental sustainability and enabling resource-efficient and profitable farming in harsh environments.