New research glasshouse and automated farming trial for Harper Adams

A new research glasshouse has been opened at Harper Adams University to serve its Crops and Environment Research Centre (CERC).

Image: Harper Adams University
Image: Harper Adams University


The glasshouse, constructed by Bridge Greenhouses, was funded by a donation from The Jean Jackson Charitable Trust, and will provide modern facilities for commercial and academic crop growing trials.

CERC manager Grace Smith said: "While the former structure was no longer up to commercial standards, the new Jean Jackson Glasshouse is representative of the modern, commercial environment and has been designed such that it can be retrofitted as new technology emerges, which will allow us to adapt alongside industry."

The glasshouse is made from polycarbonate rather than glass, which allows for better thermal dynamics, making it more energy efficient. The height of the structure results in better heat dissipation, Grace explained, and electronically-controlled shade screens on the south-facing side permit better control of the growing environment.

It has been in use for three months ahead of the formal opening. "We have already started to trial new LED lighting systems, to determine how plants grow differently under different lighting conditions," Smith said.

"We hope that this work will prepare us well, if in the future, industry starts to move in this same direction and older lighting technology becomes obsolete."

The Shrewsbury-based trust funded the Shropshire college's entomology laboratory which opened last year, and also funds student scholarships.

Meanwhile Harper Adams engineering staff, working with precision farming specialist Precision Decisions, are attempting to grow and harvest a hectare of cereal crops using only autonomous farming machinery.

Researcher Kit Franklin said: "We're hoping to string everything together to create one whole system, which will allow us to farm our hectare of cereal crop from establishment to harvest, without having to go into the field.

"This is the first time in the world that this has been done but pushing boundaries is what engineering research is about."

Hands Free Hectare is funded by the Innovate UK Satellites and agri-food competition. The project's progress will be relayed via social media over the coming year.

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