This farm at the third ring road in Beijing is the first intelligent LED plant factory in China. The factory is highly modernized and managed by the protected agricultural IoT control system.
In more detail, there are dozens of sensors in the factory to jointly manage various parameters of the plant during its growth. Sensors and artificial intelligence cameras are also monitored throughout the process to adjust various parameters in real-time. Through the sensor and the visual analysis system equipped with artificial intelligence cameras, the parameters such as temperature, light, water and gas fertilizer are continuously optimized, and the changes of plant growth phenotypic parameters are collected and learned and calculated.
The data model of crop growth optimization is obtained, and the “plant dialogue” is implemented. The goal is to achieve maximum yield and quality with the least amount of resources.
In this “farm” built of steel the “farmland” is a row of five-layer double-row seedling racks in the house.
The person in charge of the farm said that the seedling efficiency per unit area of this seedling rack is more than 40 times that of conventional seedlings, and the seedling cycle can be shortened by 40%. Take an example of the cultivation of lettuce. From planting to harvesting, the plant factory only takes 20 days by using the so-called "Deep Flow Technique (DFT)". Besides, the output per unit area is more than 25 times that of open field cultivation, while the produce is still of high quality.
Going against tradition
In fact, this highly efficient method of cultivating vegetables is not a rare thing. As early as 1903, countries began to plant vegetables in a vertical way. But when the LED light source solved the sunshine problem in plant growth, and new technologies allowed for better control, vertical farming really started to take off.
In 2005, Yang Qichang, chief of the "Facilities Plant Environmental Engineering Team" of the Institute of Agricultural Environment and Sustainable Development of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, found that the red and blue light combination of LED can provide an ideal spectrum for plant photosynthesis; he immediately imagined that using LEDs in plant factories instead of fluorescent lamps at that time would be a new development direction.
Since the spectral components of civil-used and plant-used LEDs were very different at that time, the team had contacted many domestic research institutes such as the Institute of Semiconductors of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and spent several times the price of civil-used LEDs to jointly develop 4 sets of LED plant light source panel systems. Since then, they have carried out many experimental pieces of researches on plant seedling, leaf vegetable cultivation, medicinal plant cultivation, and plant tissue culture, and obtained a large number of plant light formula parameters.
Afterwards, under the support of the national “863” project “Intelligent Plant Factory Production Technology Research”, the Innovation Project of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and 15 research units jointly tackled the problem and finally obtained a series of innovative breakthroughs: first proposed multiple light formulas for plants, and created LED energy-saving light source based on light formulas and its light environment control technology equipment; first proposed light-temperature coupled energy-saving environment control method, and created the energy-saving environmental regulation technology equipment of the plant factory; first proposed a light-nutrition regulation method for vegetable quality, and created a short-term continuous illumination to improve quality technology and technical equipment before mining; first proposed an intelligent management and control method for plant factory efficacy, energy efficiency and nutritional quality improvement, and created an intelligent management and control system based on the IoT.
Indeed, LED plant factory technology is time-consuming and labor-intensive, but this technology can help the growth of vegetables which means they can be moved indoors, completely freeing the restrictions of land, sunlight, and water. It also has the advantage of “efficient production”. Yang Qichang explained that the unit area yield can reach dozens or even hundreds of times of natural cultivation in the open field, and the water consumption is less than 5%.
However, only 10 years ago, only a few developed countries such as Japan, the United States, and the Netherlands mastered this technology. Today, as environmental and health issues are increasingly mentioned, this technology is used in all areas of agricultural production in various countries.
A long way to go
For China, although the development of this technology has good achievements, it still has obstacles on the way forward. There is a lack of professionals in this technology, and a lot of research and development funds are needed.
However, the experts of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the factories responsible for researching this technology are very confident. They believe that in the future smart agriculture will become the norm, and the LED smart factory is a business card for Chinese agriculture to go international.