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New project wants to raise the bar in protected cultivation

Conventional greenhouse practices are optimised for growing warm-climate crops such as tomatoes and peppers. When attempting to grow cooler-climate crops such as lettuce, production, and quality challenges arise due to the diminished light exposure, warm air temperature, and increased humidity.

As a result, production of such crops remains primarily in open fields, where exposure to extreme weather conditions, pests, and diseases has a major impact on cultivation and ultimately yield.


Funded by Defra through The Farming Innovation Programme and delivered via Innovate UK, the consortium is comprised of a diverse team: Crystal Heart Salad Company Ltd, the University of Nottingham, the University of Hull, Durham University, and Crop Health and Protection (CHAP).


This 21-month project will focus on designing a cutting-edge greenhouse that optimises natural light exposure for enhanced crop growth. By employing novel heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) principles and technologies, the resulting climate within the structure will closely resemble outdoor conditions with regard to air temperature and humidity.


By addressing the challenges linked to light exposure, temperature, and humidity, the project will be able to establish a robust platform that enables year-round cultivation of lettuce and a wide range of horticultural crops in typical English weather conditions.


James Bean, Managing Director at Crystal Heart Salad Company, who are leading the project, said: “We look forward to collaborating with expert research organizations to prototype a novel closed greenhouse that we hope will represent the future of protected cultivation.


“For growers, this solution will ultimately mean less risk and uncertainty, coupled with the ability for greater control over inputs across extending cropping seasons.”


The work will aim to provide physical validation of the novel greenhouse structure and HVAC systems as well as identify conditions for scaling up in a commercial setting. This innovative system offers unparalleled climate control compared to traditional greenhouses and presents opportunities for implementing further novel functionalities.


Dr Harry Langford, Innovation Network Lead at CHAP, added: “The system is ingeniously designed with sustainability at its core and the need to reduce carbon emissions.


“The energy management systems are developed to seamlessly integrate with renewable sources, which in turn provides a fantastic opportunity to cultivate a variety of crops under protective cover.


“We are confident that by collaboratively working alongside our industrial and academic partners, this project can provide a real step-change in enhancing profitability for growers while reducing energy and resource consumption.”


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