Futuristic food-growing techniques like vertical farming and indoor urban agriculture can help feed the world - but this fast-growing sector needs to scale up to meet that challenge.
This will be the focus of an event which will bring industry innovators to the Norwich Research Park to discuss the potential of controlled-environment agriculture (CEA).
With a rising population adding pressure on finite supplies of farmland, new technologies are emerging which can grow food within enclosed structures such as greenhouses to optimise resources like land and energy - often using soil-less, hydroponic systems to supply precise amounts of water and nutrients to the plants' roots.
Industry leaders including LettUs Grow, Growpura and Square Mile Farms will be sharing their insights at the John Innes Centre on March 18 at a seminar organised by Agri-TechE, formerly known as Agri-Tech East.
CEA is a fast-growing sector, worth an estimated £1.72bn in 2018 worldwide - with experts predicting that figure will rise to £9.84bn by 2026.
Agri-TechE director Dr Belinda Clarke said these technologies could play an important role alongside traditional agriculture - as long as they can make the next growth leap to achieve economies of scale.
"Scale-up is the next big challenge for controlled-environment agriculture," she said.
"There are still obstacles to overcome and the industry is experimenting with different technologies and business models, such as diversification of existing vegetable production, purpose-built facilities or niche cultivation close to the point of use - to gain competitive market price for its products."
One of around 20 speakers and exhibitors at the conference is Jock Richardson of Growpura, whose technology is designed for large production facilities, using hydroponics in a "clean room" environment and featuring an automated system to move plants.
"We are going to see continued invention for small-scale hydroponics, but on the industrial end the challenge to be broached is how growing operations are scaled," he said. "A lot of operators have some great technology but to grow bigger means a linear, or worse, increase in costs.
Energy management is one of the key issues to be solved in this. There is a lot happening in sustainable energy supply and I think it is going to make a big difference to how farmers and consumers view CEA in the coming years."
Source: Eastern Daily Press