The National University of Singapore (NUS) established the Research Centre on Sustainable Urban Farming (SUrF) to bring together the diverse expertise of principal investigators from across the University and develop new science and technology-based solutions for urban farming in the nation in response to the need for indoor urban farming solutions.
“NUS is dedicated to significantly advancing Singapore’s food policy agenda, working with allies in the government and business. According to Professor Tan Eng Chye, president of NUS, “We want to build an internationally competitive research programme in sustainable urban farming that includes smart agriculture solutions for various stakeholders.
SUrF is a research organization that focuses on sustainable urban farming, and it is made up of a core team from the fields of science, engineering, and computing. The experts in this select group of researchers have backgrounds in a wide range of fields, including plant science, genomics, and gene editing, microbiomes, food science, materials and polymer science, sensor technologies, data science, and artificial intelligence (AI) for indoor farming.
In order to improve plant performance both before and after harvest, including harvest yield, nutritional profile, and safety assurance, the team will launch multidisciplinary programs. By the beginning of 2023, a new building for the Center that includes about 200 square meters of indoor plant growth space for research is expected to be finished.
Three growth rooms and a fourth precision growth room will be available, and environmental factors like temperature and light spectrum can be adjusted to encourage better plant growth and possibly greater phytonutrients. The research equipment will include PlantEye, a non-destructive phenotyping instrument for observing plant growth and documenting plant health, as well as numerous analytical tools for analyzing nutrient content.
The Centre will also have access to NUS’s state-of-the-art molecular genetics laboratory for gene-editing research. Additionally, the three stages of food production—before, during, and after—are the focus of SUrF’s study. The Centre’s objective is to provide growers with solutions and collaborate with neighborhood businesses to suit their needs.
Interventions made after harvest can also assist increase the food’s nutritive value and microbiological safety. Preliminary research suggests that LED lighting improves the nutritional value of green crops while also eliminating organisms that cause spoilage. The team’s next steps will be to create LED lighting technology specifically for the green veggies that Singaporeans normally eat and test their method in a simulated shop setting.
The NUS Departments of Biological Science, Food Science and Technology, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical, and Computer Engineering, and Computer Science also contribute 16 principal investigators to SUrF. Ten research initiatives are under their management. Making it simpler to grow leafy greens in cities is one of these initiatives. Because they were cultivated in the field, the majority of the crops grown in indoor farms aren’t suitable for regulated surroundings. This renders indoor plant cultivation inefficient, unsustainable, and low-yielding.
In order to create leafy vegetable varieties with features that perform well in controlled situations, researchers are exploring novel plant breeding techniques like genomic selection and gene editing. This is carried out to raise agricultural output and quality. In contrast, the team created bio-inoculants, which are bacteria that aid in the growth of plants. These can be applied in a variety of farming conditions, including hydroponic farming and growing plants in soil, peat, or coconut fibers. This might promote more resilient and robust crop growth while minimizing negative environmental effects. Additionally, it might lessen the demand for chemical fertilizers.