Institute for Space Systems EDEN plant cultivation technologies project - how will it affect life on earth?

The EDEN ISS research project in Antarctica is designed to help astronauts grow food in space and on other planets. It has produced its first crop: 3.6kg of lettuce, 70 radishes and 18 cucumbers. But will the new technologies the project aims to develop be useful on Earth?

Evolution and Design of Environmentally-closed Nutrition Sources (EDEN)

The ISS EDEN plant cultivation project is led by the Institute for Space Systems (ISS), a consortium of experts in human spaceflight and controlled environment agriculture from academia and industry.

The ISS also aims to identify possible developments of closed or nearly closed-loop plant cultivation systems that would enable terrestrial agriculture to be conducted in regions that are currently unsuitable.

It’s not the first research project to attempt to grow food in conditions similar to those in space – and astronauts are already growing individual plants on the International Space Station - but the consortium is researching key technologies that it hopes will be relevant to large-scale food production in space and on Earth. These technologies include:

  • Nutrient delivery systems

  • Bio-detection and decontamination systems

  • Food quality and safety

  • High-performance LED lighting systems

New UK research into LED lighting

Dr Jim Monaghan, Director of the Fresh Produce Research Centre at Harper Adams University, is working with Cambs Farm Growers (part of the G’s group) to develop the use of LED lighting in the commercial propagation of young vegetable transplants and production of leafy crops.

LED lighting could enable optimised transplant production for field crops and allow year round production of leafy crops in vertical or indoor production systems.

Normally, transplants of lettuce and celery are grown under protection (such as glass) in the UK but seasonal light and temperature changes influence the production time. By manipulating the light environment it is possible to control the duration of propagation as well as characteristics of the transplant that may be beneficial when planted on into the field.

Currently, baby leaf crops are mainly field-grown in the UK in spring and summer then imported in winter. Using indoor growing technologies may enable UK growers to supply a year-round crop with potentially enhanced nutritional status.

Dr Monaghan said: “We have seen how we can manipulate plant growth rates and morphology through using different LED light spectra. These effects may have significant benefits when the plants are moved into the field. One challenge is the cost of LED systems and it will be interesting to see the LED developments produced by EDEN ISS and how much energy is required to power them.

In addition to his work at Harper Adams University, Dr Monaghan also teaches fresh produce courses offered through the Agrifood Training Partnership. Topics include postharvest quality and advanced agronomy. Last year Dr Monaghan was involved in a series of training workshops for growers focussed on managing food safety risks in the production of fresh produce crops.

Training opportunities with the Agrifood Training Partnership

The range of crops that make up fresh produce is wide, covering root crops, leafy vegetables, bush fruit and tree fruit. The fresh produce sector of agriculture is fast moving, innovative and high value. The constant pressure to improve efficiency and come up with new crops has led to significant innovations and refinements in growing methods.

The Agrifood Training Partnership offers a range of short and full-time courses on crops and fresh produce including production, quality management, plant pathogens, sustainability and agricultural drones.

Short courses starting soon

Applied Precision Crop Production starts 27 May 2019

Advanced Agronomy for Fresh Produce starts 3 June 2019

Fresh Produce Postharvest Quality Management starts 4 June 2018

Winter courses

Advanced Sugar Beet Production Management starts 31 October

Potato Production and Management starts 21 November

For more information about our short courses, contact us on 0330 333 4530.

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