Vertical Farming and the need for Texture Analysis
Learn how to harness the measurement of texture to optimise fresh product quality
Why do we need Vertical Farming?
Indoor vertical farming has been around for quite some time, but leading companies in this industry are starting to gain a great deal of attention from the business press and investors are pouring money into the industry. As the world population continues to expand, so too does the amount of fruits and vegetables needed to feed the world. If we can’t create new farmland to accommodate the increase in fresh food required, vertical farming can be part of the solution to this problem.
What is Vertical/Urban Farming?
Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers. It incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, i.e. it provides protection and maintains optimal growing conditions throughout the development of the crop - it’s a big data, high tech endeavour with staff consisting of chief technology officers, engineers, scientists and risk managers. Vertical farming, which has been expanding in urban areas even before the pandemic, is now gaining huge growth as the vertical farms control everything from seed to store and provides consumers with information about where their food comes from and how it’s produced. The increased demand for organic products among consumers, fueled by the improved standard of living and higher disposable income, has paved the way for the development of vertical farming, wherein organic farming is practiced widely.
Many commercial growers are adopting high capital expenditure technologies, such as advanced hydroponic systems, LED lighting and electronic traceability systems. One example is AeroFarms, a leader in the space, their plant scientists monitor millions of data points every harvest. The company says their LED lights are used “to create a specific light recipe for each plant, giving the greens exactly the spectrum, intensity, and frequency, they need for photosynthesis in the most energy-efficient way possible.” This lighting allows them to control size, shape, texture, colour, flavour, and nutrition of their plants.
Vertical Farming – the benefits
Reduction of miles fresh fruits and vegetables must travel to reach supermarket shelves – this reduces fuel consumption, delivers fresh produce faster and drives down consumer cost
Less space is required – the use of vertical farms in densely populated places can get more fresh produce on supermarket shelves faster and could even spur home delivery to consumers.
Uses up to 70% less water than traditional farms - playing a significant role in sustainability efforts as well as the greater good of the earth
Pesticide and herbicide free due to their isolated nature.
A dirt-free environment and requires no washing of the vegetables. This alone can prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.
Maximises farming yields - Getting light all day long allows the plants to grow faster. Also, traditional farmers usually apply fertilizer once, water the crop and hope it grows. Fertilizers can be applied many times, adjusting along the way to optimise plant growth.
More harvests throughout the year - Since harvests are not climate related, they can be done year-round. For some fruits and vegetables, this means having up to 30 harvests in a year rather than five or six. Consumers no longer have to wait for produce to be “in season.” There is also no worry about spoilage due to weather conditions, which enables maximised production.
Traditional farms rely on natural sunlight, vertical farms do not. Renewable energy sources are one way these companies can try to offset the cost and environmental impact of traditional energy. And LED lights are becoming more efficient at a rapid pace.
Texture Problems associated with Vertically Farmed Foods
As with any new development and innovation that is seen to replace a traditional approach or product there will be an expectation by the customer that must be met in order to attract purchase. Texture of fruits and vegetables is extremely important and for most is an indicator of freshness and wholesomeness. Feeding growing populations with vertical farming using the same seeds and plants as used in conventional agriculture will demonstrate a lag in innovation. Plant technology will need to advance to optimise hydroponics and gene architecture will allow enhancements in colour, flavour and texture. Texture Analysis provides the tool to compare traditionally farmed produce with those produced by vertical farming.
How Texture Analysis can help in Vertically Farmed Foods
Beyond taste and appearance, one of the major factors in consumer acceptability is the texture and mouthfeel of the food. While taste and appearance are the factors that attract more attention during food production and consumer purchase, texture is crucial in food preferences and can make a difference at the time of purchase.
Stable Micro Systems manufactures instruments that measure the tensile and compressional properties of raw ingredients, individual materials and finished products. It is important to measure the textural properties of food to ensure they match the expectations of a consumer. As with any manufacturing innovation, a large amount of research takes place during development, but the end-product must also go through a quality control process to assess its mechanical (and sensorial) properties. A Texture Analyser is a crucial part of this procedure, giving a reliable way to test products by applying a choice of compression, tension, extrusion, adhesion, bending or cutting tests to measure their physical or textural properties e.g. firmness, flexibility, crispiness and toughness, to name but a few.
A range of Texture Analysers are available varying in maximum force capacity and height options suited to the requirements of the application.
A vast range of probes and fixtures can be attached to the instruments depending upon the product/material to be tested. Whether you need an Ottawa cell to compare raspberry ripeness, a penetration probe to assess fruit flesh firmness and skin rupture force or a three point bend rig to measure the rigidity of your carrot batons – texture analysis is the tool to employ.
Want to discuss texture analysis for Vertically Farmed Foods?
• Discover the typical types of tests used in the fruit and vegetable industry for texture measurement
• See how fruit and vegetable industry leaders use texture analysis to get ahead of their competition
• Read our blog posts about texture analysis of fruit
• Read our blog posts about texture analysis of vegetables
Examples of how Texture Analysers have been applied
A large amount of research in this area of product development occurs in an academic context and often Texture Analysers are used for patent applications. Here we give you some examples of how Texture Analysers are actually being applied.
Artificial light impacts the physical and nutritional quality of lettuce plants
LEDs are being used extensively as a supplementary light source in indoor agriculture due to the economical and physiological advantages that this artificial illumination offers compared to traditional fluorescence illumination. Recently researchers from the University of Murcia have been investigating the artificial light impact on the physical and nutritional quality of lettuce plants with an aim of looking into food production under sustainable conditions. They used their TA.XTplus Texture Analyser along with a Kramer Shear Cell to measure leaf texture.
The Future of Food with with Vertical/Urban Farming
Traditional farming is clearly not going away any time soon. In fact, if it did, the world would be in a whole lot of trouble. However, as the population continues to grow, and more emphasis is put on environmental sustainability, vertical farming can help to fill that void. The future of vertical farming looks bright. It will be an interesting market to watch over the next few years and quality control methods will need to be introduced for consumer acceptance. Let us help you with the tools for the job!