1. Jane Nester
  2. Agriculture
  3. Sunday, 26 July 2020
Hi everyone

I can see a lot of advantages for indoor farming, eg:


  • potentially less cost and energy for transportation
  • much less vulnerable to climate change
  • reliable year round crop production
  • much less water required
  • less/no chemicals or pesticides
  • potentially no environmental pollution
  • less land required (especially vertical farming)
  • safer for staff.


However, I have some questions:


  1. It is my understanding that the nutritional value of the plants will be determine by the nutrient solutions they are fed. Is it possible for these solutions to reproduce the diverse blend of nutrients found in healthy soil?

  2. Obviously indoor farmers are concerned in plant health, but are they paying sufficient attention to human nutrition?

  3. How can we ensure that indoor farmers are using to the healthiest possible nutrient formulas?

  4. I believe that indoor farming is usually quite expensive compared to traditional agriculture. How much is the cost of indoor farming likely to fall as it achieves greater scale and automation?

  5. Can indoor produce receive organic certifications?
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Dear Jane!

To your questions on nutrients:
The nutrient composition in good fertilizers (normally fluent in in-door farming) is healthy. However, I myself have seen when I grew plants in soil using the nutrients from fish manure (via aquaponics growth system) the plants were growing faster, more stronger, more healthy looking. My intuition points to the bacteria relasing minerals or other components from the soil to the plant roots, but this would need research. Likewise, I see my plants are also healthier looking when exposed to the sunlight compared with the artificial LED lighting.

Potential cost reductions:
In-door farming is normally more expensive than traditional farming, and would be related to the high energy costs for heating, humidity control and lighting. Be aware that the productivity gains in in-door farming would be achieved from technologies that also traditional greenhouse farming would take advantage of. So the advantages of in-door farming are more related to consumer proximity (freshness), energy and security costs on supply chains, cost of space for production.

Organic certification:
For the production of plants they need to be grown in soil and receive organic fertilizer. However, I would imagine there would also be requirements of access to natural daylight/sunlight. The rules might be different within the US and EU organic regime.

Hope that clarified your questions a little more.

KInd regards
Paul Kledal
References
  1. https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-rye-kledal-041283a/
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Agriculture
  3. # 1
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Dear Jane,

You posted some very pertinent questions, which are quite similar ones that I have for a project that I am engaged with in Dubai. And I really like the responses from Paul. One of the people I am working with, well he is doing most of the work actually, is a farmer and professional engineer of Moroccan roots from France. He is growing an incredible variety of crops that are so flavorful (a very good indicator of quality and nutritional content) and unique (no one believed they could be grown here; for example Blue Bananas) that the top chefs in Dubai quickly discovered him and are in constant demand of what he produces. He is convinced that by feeding the soil not the plants directly, plus avoiding all synthetic pesticides (he uses a Neem based product he makes; plus benefits from the spiders and other insects/organisms (e.g. lizards) that prey on pest species), and using compost made primarily of waste food materials is why his produce is so highly sought after by chefs.

He is convinced that growing in soil, even the sands of Dubai, produces much better quality produce at much less cost than vertical and other indoor farms. I have tasted the produce from the local vertical farms, and well, it has not taste. The goal of these farms is to produce quickly and consistently a range of local produce.

Shortly we will do a lab analysis comparing the nutritional content of his produce versus the similar vertical farms in the area. The nutritional content of the produce from vertical farms is a question when posed to the operators or technology providers has been in my experience, one that has never been answered. At least they have not answered me.

There is a need and opportunity for both types of technologies/approaches to food security. But to date my experience is technology enhanced traditional agriculture is not only regenerative but provides the greatest number of benefits to people, from nutrition and taste to working and having direct contact with nature. Biophilia is an underappreciated aspect of regenerative farming, especially in the Urban Environment where we are now seeing how compatible agriculture and urbanism can be.

Another person involved in the project is the founder and owner of Planbee which is raising awareness about the importance of bees and other pollinators, and how we can and must protect them.

I will keep you posted as things progress. Especially the results of our nutritional analysis. We have been working on this initiative for over 1 year now, and progressing well.

With best regards,

Peter
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Agriculture
  3. # 2
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Thanks for the replies :D

It is interesting that both of you suggested that plants seem to grow better in soil.

Paul Rye Kledal, I look forward to hearing the results of the nutritional analysis!
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Agriculture
  3. # 3
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
I am also curious about the nutritional value of hydroponic crops.

I found a book on ResearchGate, "Vegetables - Importance of Quality Vegetables to Human Health" which has a chapter "Hydroponic Production Systems: Impact on Nutritional Status and Bioactive Compounds of Fresh Vegetables". I thought it was an interesting read. The author claims that hydroponics has the potential to create produce with higher nutritional quality than conventional farming. But presumably that would depend on growers using techniques and nutrient solutions that create the optimal blend of bioactive compounds.
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Agriculture
  3. # 4
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Hi everyone, I'm doing my PhD in this topic at Cornell.

Jane Nester to answer your questions:

1. Nutrient solution is not the only determinant of nutrition -- also depends on light, water, etc. As long as there are not deficiencies in these things, the plant will be healthy and nutritious whether grown inside or outdoors.

2. Yes - sometimes indoor farmed products are actually MORE nutritious and farmers are even more nutrition-focused because they can really tailor the environment to suit the needs of the plant and give it exactly what it needs for optimal growth / nutrition

3. I believe others have covered this

4. It really depends -- systems can range from very simple to very complex. Level and complexity of automation can also vary greatly (just like in field production, which doesn't always rely on automation).

5. Organic certification is only offered to plants grown in soil. Therefore, if you grow in soil indoors, you can get it. If you grow hydroponically, etc., usually you cannot get this certification, even if you use organic-based nutrient solution. This is a hot topic and still currently being evaluated in the industry.

I hope this helps!
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Agriculture
  3. # 5
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Hey All,

I've worked in indoor ag for 5 years, many good answers on this thread so I will instead focus on building on a few other answers.

Regarding nutrition, as Maya said, lots of other factors. Two additional interesting ones to consider are the amount of CO2 in the farm and the seeds themselves. Increasing CO2 levels in a controlled environment makes plants grow faster but it also makes them less nutritious.

Then with seeds, there are companies working on seeds specifically for indoor ag. While these companies can optimize for nutrition, its tough for indoor farms to compete with the outdoor ones at the moment so they are mostly optimizing for yield and flavor. This is just the case in the US, but in other markets such as Singapore and Japan, there is more interest in nutrition...

Then regarding automation and scale-up, there is a lot to say. I encourage you to direct message me and we can talk =)
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Agriculture
  3. # 6
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