Innovation Agritech Group Sets a New Standard with the Installation of the First Commercial Grade Vertical Farm at a UK University

First of its kind commercial scale installation at The University of Essex enables pioneering research in sustainable practices to help address the food security challenges of the future.

London, UK, 8th May 2023 — Innovation Agritech Group (IAG), a leader in aeroponic vertical farming technology, today announced the successful installation of their GrowFrame360™ system at the University of Essex. Making this the first commercial standard vertical farm to be installed at a UK university. This landmark collaboration between IAG and the University of Essex' new £3 million Smart Technology Experimental Plant Suite (STEPS) marks a ground-breaking step in agricultural research, setting a precedent for sustainable crop cultivation studies in an educational setting in the UK.

The GrowFrame360™ system, known for its minimal water usage and soil-free growing capabilities, plays a vital role in the University's efforts towards innovative plant research, helping to address the pressing challenges of climate change and food security. Students will be at the forefront of the work, developing and conducting experiments with the University's internationally renowned researchers, which provides them with a unique undergraduate experience and training opportunity.

"Today's announcement represents a significant step forward in combining advanced technology, education and research to address global challenges," said Kate Brunswick, Business Development Director at IAG. "We are proud to be working with the University of Essex to transform agricultural practices, bridging the gap where traditional farming falls short in meeting the demands of growing populations and changing climates. Our pioneering GrowFrame360™ technology will help both scientists and students to make a profound impact on the resilience and productivity of the agriculture and horticulture sector."

The University of Essex' STEPS ground-breaking plant lab is dedicated to advancing research in plant adaptation to climate change and ensuring future food security. The lab boasts state-of-the-art capabilities, including a commercial-grade indoor farm that simulates various global environments and specialised suites to replicate conditions in a warming planet. It allows researchers to manipulate CO2 levels and temperature, helping plants to adapt to harsher conditions. Advanced computer scanning technology will track plant growth and analyse changes in photosynthesis. The research will leverage AI and robotics to forge new methodologies, technologies, and strategies for forecasting changes in agriculture and the natural environment.
The installed technology uses an automatic aeroponic irrigation system, where crops are grown without soil, and roots are exposed to the air and intermittently misted with high-pressure water containing nutrient-rich solutions. Unlike in traditional farming, any water not absorbed by the roots is recycled through the closed-loop irrigation system. Meaning 98% of used water is captured and UV treated rather than lost to run off.

"As the world population grows, it's more pressing than ever to increase plant productivity in crop yields, so we can sustain food production for the future," said Professor Tracy Lawson, Director of Essex Plant Innovation Centre, School of Life Sciences, University of Essex. "IAG's GrowFrame allows us to extend our work to include indoor or horticultural crops rather than just traditional field crops. The GrowFrame is ideal for our experiments because of its capabilities and flexibility. It's also particularly important for our students, as we train the next generation of scientists."

STEPS was part funded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent organisation focused on supporting civil society by investing in projects in science, health, heritage, humanities, and the arts.

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