Growing to new heights

Innovative user-friendly technology makes it simple for growers – including those with small-scale operations – to monitor plant health

By Lauren Arva

Monitoring indoor crops could become a lot easier for producers, thanks to technological advances in the ag industry.

Unlike crops grown in fields, indoor crops are more prone to soil nutrient imbalances because of the enclosed environments. So, Dr. Robert Ferl and colleagues at the University of Florida Space Plants Lab used a light-based tool to track plant health, a December Botanical Society of America release says.

The researchers measured plant health with the NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index). This indicator compares plants’ absorption of various light spectrums. Healthy plants absorb most visible light and reflect near-infrared light.

By exposing two plants to a high-concentration ammonium nitrate treatment and salinity, Ferl and his colleagues analyzed the usefulness of the NDVI monitoring technique on a smaller, indoor scale. The researchers successfully identified stress signatures from both plants before the human eye could detect them.

lettuce in vertical farm
    kynny/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

These early monitoring systems can be used remotely, are cost efficient and can identify agronomy issues quickly, the findings suggest. Growers can also use the technology to monitor various crops grown indoors, leading to healthier and less expensive produce.

This use of innovative technology in indoor farming opens doors for more opportunities, says Tyler Whale, president of Ontario Agri-Food Technologies (OAFT). OAFT is a non-profit organization that assists Ontario agri-food and agri-tech businesses and entrepreneurs by providing access to networks, funding programs and industry expertise.

“We have to start thinking about the eventuality of micro-indoor (farming),” he says. “The idea is there already. When it becomes practical, what an awesome thing” it will be.

Dr. Ferl’s full study can be found in the October edition of Applications in Plant Sciences. BF

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