Sustainable Approaches to Agriculture Input Research & Development – Part 3

Sustainable Approaches to Agriculture Input Research & Development – Part 3

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This is part three of a series on sustainable approaches to agriculture input research & development (R&D) from the lens of our Senior Director of Research & Development, JC Chidiac. He will be diving into the process of developing inputs for controlled environment agriculture in particular, which includes fertilizers and substrates, with sustainability and climate-smart agriculture being a very high priority.

This week: Closed-loop perspectives for R&D

Utilizing Closed-Loop Approaches in R&D
In nature, waste doesn’t exist and everything is cyclical. The end product of any process goes right back into a different process. Following that, it then processes it even more. This is easiest to see with elements such as water, air, and carbon. Therefore, the best approach to developing agriculture inputs during R&D is to mimic that. This means putting effort into identifying the value in waste streams that are normally just defined as unusable.

Nutrients & Closed-loop Agriculture
Let’s look at nutrients and how closed-loop agriculture comes into play with R&D. We know what plants need: essential macro and micronutrients in different amounts. We also know biologically what part of biomass, cells, and tissues you are able to find in these nutrients, whether it’s from protein, amino acids, carbohydrates, etc. Additionally, we have fairly good knowledge of a lot of different microorganisms and their food sources, along with what elements these microorganisms are efficient at breaking down to turn into simpler forms.

In the nutrient R&D space, knowing that we have all of the information above, we begin by identifying sources of high concentrations of our target elements. This includes identifying microbes that are going to be instrumental in processing these elements for the production of our nutrients. We then work on creating the conditions to let the microorganisms work efficiently and continuously.

Grow Media & Closed-loop Agriculture
When it comes to grow media, there is an abundance of renewable options. However, renewable sources aren’t always necessarily reusable, and vice versa. What do we mean by this? If we look at examples such as clay and gypsum, both of these widely available sources that are reusable. But they are not renewable.

When these types of options for indoor farms create additional negative sustainability impacts, such as being non-renewable as well as requiring huge amounts of processing labor, going back to the R&D drawing board is needed. Exploring grow media options that are low impact. such as materials that are easily home compostable, is the key starting point. From there, you move outwards in terms of R&D. But ensure that this is the “North Star” that guides your first decision on which options to even begin considering.

Our Approach To Closed-Loop Agriculture R&D
Our R&D team is always on the lookout for options that are sourced from waste streams, abundant, easily sourced from local channels, and sustainable. This closed-loop agriculture approach is best exemplified through our grow media, ReNu Terra. Some of the fibers that we're currently utilizing including jute. As a raw material, it’s very low maintenance, does not require artificial irrigation, or produce significant negative impact. In fact, jute is known to be one of the world's most eco-friendly fibers. The jute industry is extremely large in the US, with millions of tons of jute being imported into the country. By accessing this market, we’re able to reduce future potential jute waste.

We also looked at the food processing industry. A lot of processing that goes on results in fibrous, organic material that degrades into compost. Unfortunately, not all of this organic material can be degraded easily outside of compost environments, whether it’s home or industrial based. Due to this, we began to take a closer look at as many industries as possible, beyond just food processing, to see what other waste streams exist and what value might be drawn from them. It’s crucial to note that this is very highly regional because different landscapes across the world will have different waste streams across various industries. Knowing this, as a company like ours opens up manufacturing facilities in different locations, our R&D team will always sit down to reevaluate the type of regional and local waste streams that exist based on where we’re working out of.

If your indoor farm is trying to think through how to utilize your waste streams, we can be of assistance. Reach out to us here

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