Giving nature a helping hand isn’t new but this idea of indoor farming takes that several steps further:
Farming is moving indoors, where the sun never shines, where rainfall is irrelevant and where the climate is always right.
The perfect crop field could be inside a windowless building with meticulously controlled light, temperature, humidity, air quality and nutrition. It could be in a New York high-rise, a Siberian bunker, or a sprawling complex in the Saudi desert.
Advocates say this, or something like it, may be an answer to the world’s food problems.
“In order to keep a planet that’s worth living on, we have to change our methods,” says Gertjan Meeuws, of PlantLab, a private research company.
The danger of demand for food outstripping supply is real. Changing methods is part of the solution but that doesn’t have to mean anything as radical as moving indoors.
Improved genetics for plants and stock, through conventional breeding or genetic modification, and more irrigation would be good places to start.
Using the best land for food production rather than bio-fuel crops would also help as would free trade and an end to subsidies which encourage inefficiencies.
Meeuws and three other Dutch bioengineers have taken the concept of a greenhouse a step further, growing vegetables, herbs and house plants in enclosed and regulated environments where even natural light is excluded.
In their research station, strawberries, yellow peppers, basil and banana plants take on an eerie pink glow under red and blue bulbs of Light-Emitting Diodes, or LEDs. Water trickles into the pans when needed and all excess is recycled, and the temperature is kept constant. Lights go on and off, simulating day and night, but according to the rhythm of the plant – which may be better at shorter cycles than 24 hours – rather than the rotation of the Earth. . .
. . . For more than a decade the four researchers have been tinkering with combinations of light, soil and temperature on a variety of plants, and now say their growth rate is three times faster than under greenhouse conditions. They use no pesticides, and about 90 percent less water than outdoors agriculture. While LED bulbs are expensive, the cost is steadily dropping.
Olaf van Kooten, a professor of horticulture at Wageningen University who has observed the project but has no stake in it, says a kilogram of tomatoes grown in Israeli fields needs 60 litres of water, while those grown in a Dutch greenhouse require one-quarter of that. “With this system it is possible in principle to produce a kilo of tomatoes with a little over one litre of water,” he said.
This might work for some fruit and vegetables and intensive indoor growing might revolutionise horticulture but I can’t see agriculture moving indoors.
The most efficient way to raise many crops and animals is outside, working with and supplementing natural water and light supplies rather than excluding them.