Soilless cultivation has proven to be a viable alternative for the agricultural production sector and is a growing niche industry. Currently, it is being widely used for production of different vegetables and fruits like various berries. Recent studies have also demonstrated the success of simple low-cost hydroponic system to produce quality green fodder. The soilless farming industry is collectively referred to as controlled environment agriculture (CEA). An ideal indoor farm requires controlled environment with respect to lighting, temperature, pollination, and proper arrangement of plants and needs a high initial investment for the infrastructure, equipment and devices and is one of the major limitations for indoor farming. New technologies are required to decrease carbon footprint in indoor farming. Several studies are being conducted for different technologies used in indoor farming and to study the impact of these technologies on the shelf life of plants and the quality of the produce. Such advancements in technology and operations can drive optimization of the production costs of CEA. Few of those technologies are described below:
LED lighting systems: Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) made vertical farming a possibility. In recent years, research on LEDs has highlighted their potential as a lighting system for plant growth and development. LEDs have replaced the conventional lighting technologies and also turned out to be the main component in many indoor and protected environments and resulted in rapid technological evolution in the horticultural lighting industry. Energy saving is an important factor for growers for controlling costs when using artificial lighting for plant cultivation. Current LED technologies provide 28% efficiency and need to improve to at least 50-60 % for indoor farming to become cost effective for a variety of crops. Advances in water cooled LED lighting system that can be combined to heat recovery system are being developed to reduce the heat generated by LED lighting system. This kind of technological development could significantly change the economics and environmental footprint of vertical farming. LED grow lights and systems have the potential to maximize growth at an industrial scale.
Fibre Optic technology: The usage of optical fibres is limited in indoor farming and is currently being explored for using them for daylighting. Though artificial light is a popular choice for increasing and sustaining yields in vertical farms, natural light is still considered optimal for photosynthesis. Optical fibre daylighting systems (OFDs) utilizes optical fibres as a light delivery method. However, the technology is still developing and may soon replace electric grow lights.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine learning (ML): AI and ML are being used to optimize growing conditions and improve efficiency. AI can determine optimum growth for a plant and can recreate its growth trajectory. End to end automation is expected to become a viable reality in soil less farming technologies. Artificial intelligence can improve efficiency and reduce the costs associated with soil less farming, and also aid in optimizing the nutritional value of the crops.
Underground farming: This technology utilizes the concept of CEA technologies and aims to create a stable underground environment where food is grown in constant, predictable and sustainable ways. This is a recent trend and an opportunity to be explored by companies.
A growing awareness and the focus on healthier lifestyles amongst people in India will help producers utilizing soilless farming techniques to achieve business profitability in the long term. With the technological developments happening in this area, it is expected that these new technologies offer higher yields per plant, and, in the long-term, at a significantly lower cost. The technologies can considerably decrease the seed production costs that will prove beneficial for the seed companies as currently they rely on conventional and contract farming on which they have limited control. This is an exciting opportunity for seed companies to explore the seed production both for use in CEA as well as in the conventional settings helping them in reducing the cost and increasing the quality and volume of the seed produced all-round the year. Developing nations such as India, are anticipated to offer substantial growth opportunities for this kind of farming techniques. CEA has the potential to generate differentiated and quality products with competitive pricing and a more resilient, traceable, and trustworthy supply chain for quality produce – both seeds as well as safe and healthy food products.
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