Agricultural technology company Innovation Agri-Tech Group (‘IAG’), and the University of Essex have received a major funding boost from The Wolfson Foundation, to continue world-leading plant productivity research. 

The Wolfson Foundation, an independent grant-making charity, has pledged £1 million to support the development of a unique Smart Technology Experimental Plant Suite (STEPS) at Essex’s Colchester Campus to future-proof crop production in a changing and challenging world.

IAG will be installing its innovative and patented GrowFrame™ – a modular system that uses aeroponic irrigation and closed loop water recycling to provide water and highly precise nutrients with no pesticides, as well as being proven to produce a healthier root system and superior crop growth. 

The GrowFrame™ will be part of a wider advanced technology system, which will include AI, environmental sensors and water management systems all provided and installed by IAG, enabling the ability to grow plants in a fully automated and adjustable environment.

Kate Brunswick, business development director of Innovation Agri-Tech Group, said: “The investment and funding from The Wolfson foundation into STEPS is a fantastic moment for the whole of the vertical farming industry. We know the global population is growing – and predicted to continue to do so rapidly. The traditional methods of farming and food production alone are not enough. The capability to provide adequate nutritional food, will continue to be a world-wide challenge as demand increases. 

“Since 2017, the mission of IAG is to provide a cost-effect solution that can be used on a global scale. To grow food to help feed increasing populations – especially in urban spaces or where arable farming is depleting the land due to over-farming. Collaborating with Professor Tracy Lawson and her team at the University of Essex, we’re confident that our technology will help lead the way in future-proofing food security and building climate resilience. It is a hugely exciting project to be a part of, and one that is personally close to our own objectives.” 

The project is being spearheaded by renowned plant physiologist, and a key member of the IAG advisory board, Professor Tracy Lawson from Essex’s School of Life Sciences.

Professor Tracy Lawson said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this funding from the Wolfson Foundation. This unique facility will build on our world-leading strengths in plant productivity research and allow us to exploit the latest technologies to improve key plant processes.

“It will elevate our cross-disciplinary research and work with business stakeholders to address some of the key challenges in the agriculture and horticulture sector. STEPS will also provide a unique platform for community engagement and outreach to increase the visibility of plant science research and highlight the global challenges in this area.”

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the Wolfson Foundation, said: “New and improved farming methods will be crucial to solving some of the great challenges of the 21st century, not least global food security – especially in the context of a changing climate. The University of Essex has an impressive track record in crop science, and we are delighted to be supporting these experimental facilities. We hope they will assist in making important new breakthroughs in sustainable food production.”

The STEPs facility will extend the activities initiated by the Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC), which already has strong links working with Agri-Tech and environmental industries to deliver solutions to real-world problems.

The £3.5million facility will comprise four grow rooms and is due to be open by summer 2023.

Image source: Innovation Agri-Tech Group

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