100 per cent crop yield target for new indoor growing technique

The primary sector takes another step towards lifting its sustainability with the trialling of a new hydroponic growing technique that aims to have higher yields and a lower impact on the environment, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said.

The Government is backing Southern Fresh Foods, a cutting-edge hydroponic indoor farm with more than $869,000 through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) to set up an advanced technology farm. Southern Fresh Foods will contribute $1.28 million to the venture over two and a half years.

“The project near Cambridge seeks to sustainably provide year-round production of baby leaf salads, herbs, and vegetables, and to set a benchmark of 100 percent yields,” Damien O’Connor said.

“It’s testing an overseas growing system to ensure it can be adapted to local climatic conditions.

“The project is aiming for consistently high volumes of quality produce with a lighter impact on the environment – and so far, the results look promising.”

Damien O’Connor said the technology involves an automated moving gully system.

“It’s unique and significantly more advanced than the hydroponic systems currently found in New Zealand. The system uses robotics to optimise space-usage based on the life stage and size of the plants being grown. 

“It’s a climatic-based system and highly technical, so Southern Fresh Food has been researching the optimum LED lighting and nutrient needs for different plants at the farm’s Waikato location. They have been analysing crop yield, financial return, pesticide and fertiliser use, and carbon emissions,” Damien O’Connor said.

“While there are still many refinements needed to the system as research progresses, the project shows huge potential for New Zealand. 

“The system is able to achieve substantial yields using significantly less land. There are also reduced environmental impacts from using less fertiliser and pesticides, and less water. Southern Fresh Foods is targeting 100 percent yields, meaning there would be no food waste either.

“The beauty of growing these high value crops indoors is that you’re able to protect them from the elements and from pests.

“This has obvious benefits as we seek to mitigate the effects of climate change and create resilience in our production systems.

“The project fits well with the Government’s Fit for a Better World food and fibre sector roadmap, which is fundamental to our economic recovery from COVID-19.”

The lessons and potential benefits from the trial results of this indoor hydroponic system would be made available to New Zealand growers for the common good of our communities, environment, and economy, Damien O’Connor said.

Source:  Minister of Agriculture

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog