CAES Partners with Agrify to Expand Vertical Farming Efforts

Driving through rural Georgia involves miles of sprawling farmland – cotton, peanuts or any of the crops that make farming Georgia’s #1 industry. But on the University of Georgia campus, farms are on the rise.

Vertical farming is a component of the broader discipline of controlled environment agriculture (CEA), defining the production of specialty crops – edible, medicinal and ornamental – in indoor soilless systems. The technology helps control environmental factors that affect plant growth and quality, including light, humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide and nutrient levels.

Thanks in part to a new partnership between the Ferrarezi Laboratory at UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and Agrify, a company that produces microenvironment-controlled vertical farming units, the CAES CEA program has established two large-scale vertical farms. on the campus.

Agrify donated 26 4ft x 4ft fixtures to the project, increasing research capacity. The $26,000 investment was part of the overall project cost of approximately $120,000.

Current research projects in vertical farming include comparing the performance of different hydroponic growing systems in lettuce and strawberries, comparing plant response across multiple fertilizer management strategies, and more. (Photo by Jordan Powers)

“Indoor vertical trusses rely solely on artificial lighting. These farms grow crops entirely indoors in a warehouse or shipping container,” said Rhuanito Ferrarezi, associate professor of controlled environment agriculture in the Department of Horticulture at CAES. “In some of these farms the crops grow along vertical columns, and in others they grow horizontally in rows stacked like the floors of a skyscraper. One of the advantages of relying on lights LEDs is that they allow plants to grow consistently and reliably 365 days a year, regardless of weather or seasonality.

Another advantage of CEA is the precise control of light spectrum, intensity, and duration, allowing for adjustment of many variables, including flavor profiles. For example, Ferrarezi highlighted the production of spicier mustard greens or more peppery-tasting arugula.

“Our goal is to train the next generation of horticulturists in the use of environmental manipulation necessary for a functioning vertical farm,” Ferrarezi said. “The LED light gift is unique because the lights allow us to use high light intensities when performing experiments.”

Associate Professor Rhuanito Ferrarezi (left) and CAES Dean Nick Place prepare for the inauguration of the Vertical Farm on October 4. (Photo by Jordan Powers)

The adjustable spectrum lamps have a beam angle of 120 degrees and an average life of approximately 50,000 hours, or 5.7 years if the lamps are operated 24 hours a day.

“This partnership is an incredible opportunity for Agrify to give back to the farming and academic communities who have given so much to Agrify,” said David Kessler, Chief Scientific Officer at Agrify. “One of Agrify’s research and manufacturing facilities, located in Covington, Georgia, has allowed this partnership to grow beyond equipment and now includes an internship program and joint doctoral research opportunities. . We look forward to helping the CEA community better understand the intersection of photobiology and environmental control systems.

Repeated trials
UGA’s two grow rooms will allow researchers to perform replicated trials, testing two to three different factors on each plant. Current research projects in vertical farms include comparing the performance of different hydroponic growing systems in lettuce and strawberries, comparing plant response and resource use across several fertilizer management strategies and light intensities, analysis of plant sap to optimize fertilizers in CEA crops, influence of airflow on calcium uptake in lettuce and spinach in vertical farming, and more .

During a ribbon cutting in October, Marc van Iersel, Vincent J. Dooley Professor in the Department of Horticulture, explained how the state-of-the-art research space was once a dilapidated building filled with abandoned equipment, including an icehouse that they converted. in the first vertical farm in the state of Georgia.

“It’s really exciting to see the growth of controlled environment agriculture, our department and the college,” he said. “It’s literally a growing field.”

Ribbon cutting
At the inauguration, CAES Dean and Director Nick T. Place shared their excitement at seeing students at all levels – undergraduate, masters, doctoral and postdoctoral – working on projects at the CAES. ‘ACE, highlighting how the work is an integral part of the college’s initiative to make CAES the nation’s premier agricultural and environmental science college.

“We do this by putting ourselves on the map with our research programs, our teaching programs, our outreach programs, and making sure we have an incredible impact across the state of Georgia and beyond,” said declared Square.

Place, Ferrarezi, horticulture department head Leo Lombardini and other CAES faculty and staff recently toured the state, speaking to industry leaders who repeatedly mentioned the growth of the CEA industry and the need for research to support it.

“There is a tremendous opportunity; I see it as a key part of the work we do to elevate the college,” Place said. “Part of this is partnering with industry, so I appreciate Agrify’s support of this project. I see this as the first of many projects we need to do with Agrify and other industry partners. industry to advance what we globally do with technology.

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