A pioneering new facility used by scientists to grow plants under LED lights was officially opened in North Yorkshire this week.
Tomato plants are being cultivated under different lighting conditions as scientists try to discover the most efficient ways of producing food indoors.
The research, which began at Stockbridge Technology Centre, Selby, in October, could eventually pave the way for a major uptake in urban growing, helping the UK meet the needs of a growing population.
Martin McPherson, the centre’s science director, said it had the potential to unlock the “sustainable intensification” of food production.
He told Country Week: “We are looking at yield and productivity improvements to see which perform best with a view to giving advice to the British Tomato Growers’ Association, which has sponsored the research.
“In a separate project we are looking at multi-layered growing in a warehouse, again using LED lights.
“We have a growing world population, which, according to the UN will grow to 10 billion by the end of the century which means we will have a lot more mouths to feed. According to projections we have to grow as much food in the next 50 years as we did in the last millennia in order to feed all those people so we have got to think of different ways of producing food.
“Using LED lighting, we are trying to break sunlight down to its component parts and hoping to achieve greater efficiency in production. It’s about changing the infrastructure for food production in an urban environment.”
The research sees lighting arranged in four different ways around tomato plants that are grown up wires. The roof of the ‘LED4CROPS’ facility where the plants are being grown extends to 5.5 metres tall to accommodate them.
Some of the plants are grown under standard sodium lights; others are under sodium lights but have LED lights interwoven within the crop; other plants have LED lights interwoven and overhead, and the fourth set is the same as the third but is better insulated beneath a frosted section of glass in the roof.
The growing season continues until mid-April and all fruit harvested from the plants is being distributed to consumers via Delifresh Ltd and the East Yorkshire Local Food Network.
Former Conservative MP Michael Jack officially opened LED4CROPS on Tuesday.