Articles, Blog

The purpose of research in agricultural production

December 6, 2019


Music Agriculture is what we rely on as a species,
as humans and with different climactic conditions into the future. Climate change is making rain events
more unpredictable, larger rainfall events that end up just flowing into river systems and
not actually being used by the crops or the plants in general. Protected cropping is the way of the future
because we can control all of the climactic variables within the glasshouse. We can control how much radiation or
sunlight the plants see. We can control the temperatures inside the rooms. We can control how much water they receive
and how much fertilisation they receive as well. This will really greatly benefit the world
because we don’t need to spread extra fertilisers onto the plant that then run into river systems
and also the production in glasshouses can be much larger than what is actually
produced out on cropped land. This will also save natural space for wildlife
as well as human enjoyment for the scenic value as well. Glasshouses are being used all over the world
to grow crops for human consumption. In a lot of these glasshouses are in
the northern hemisphere. However, we’re in the southern hemisphere
here in Australia and one of the major issues that farmers in Australia have is the really
high temperatures with growing crops outside but also inside we use an enormous amount
of energy to control the conditions inside the glasshouse to give the plants optimum
temperature for growing. This is a large concern because producers
of crops are always wanting to save money and moving into the future we want to be as
sustainable as possible and not use more electricity than we actually need to produce the crops
that we need as a community. So, the main problem that the industry of
protected cropping is experiencing in Australia is that of controlling the temperature with
inside a glasshouse. And this is actually where most of the cost
of producing a crop inside of an already established glasshouse comes in. It’s incredibly expensive to cool as well
as heat a glasshouse to make it the optimum condition for a crop to grow. It’s incredibly expensive to cool down
a glasshouse in the really hot summer months that Australia experiences. We’re addressing that question here in our
protected cropping facility here in this glasshouse. We have four research rooms established at
the moment, two of which are a normal industry standard glass. The other two rooms have a film that’s basically
like a car window tinting that was actually developed for residences to keep them cooler
during the summer months. But in our glasshouse we have them installed
on the roofs and the side walls and our aim is to test whether this film will actually
reduce the cost and the energy to consumption to maintain the crops at an optimum temperature
and condition but also to make sure that the plants actually produce the same amount
and the same quality of produce. For scientific research and general funding
can come from numerous different sources. It can come from government. It can come from the institution where the
research will be conducted. It could also come from industry. In our scenario here at the glasshouse
we are actually being funded by Western Sydney University as well as
Hort Innovation Australia which is owned by the growers of Australia. We typically call this an industry linkage grant. I’ve been working in research for a very long time. My dad was actually a research scientist and
I volunteered and worked with him when I was in high school and when I graduated college
I told my college roommate that I really wanted to travel to Australia to experience
the reptiles of Australia. And after college I was working at Duke University
and I talked to my boss there and told him that I really wanted to travel to Australia
and he told me about Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University
and got in touch with Dr David Tissue, he’s the lead scientist on this project
and applied for a job working on drought impacts on native Australian trees. And I worked there for awhile, I then decided
to take some time off and travel and then this project came up and I’m very passionate
about growing vegetables and basically enhancing food security for our communities in the future
and this was a perfect project to get involved with. With our experiment here we’re specifically
testing how Smart Glass influences the cost of producing a crop but also how it influences
the crops that are growing under it. When you have a scientific research question
it’s important to only test what your specific question is. So, we have four research rooms here,
two are what we call control which are the industry standard glass, no different from another
glasshouse down the road and then the other two rooms have the Smart Glass film on them. All of the variables within the four rooms
are the same, the temperature is the same, the CO2 concentration is the same,
humidity is the same. All four rooms get the same amount of
irrigation and fertilisation. So, all of the variables are exactly the same
within the rooms except for the Smart Glass. So, we were actually able to tease out
our results when we do our measurements and if we do find any differences between our controls
and our treatment rooms we can deduce basically that the Smart film, the Smart Glass
was what caused the difference. We conduct lots of different measurements here. We have light sensors to measure exactly
how the Smart film influences the light that’s coming into the glasshouse,
we continuously monitor that. We also have the sensors in the control room
so we can see the difference between the control and the treatment. Every week we measure how much fruit
is produced in each of the rooms. Every week we count how many buds and flowers
are on each of our experimental plants. We also do what we call gas exchange measurements
where we clamp a chamber onto the leaf and measure really fine-tuned tiny measurements
of CO2 and water vapour inside that chamber which tells us how much the plant is photosynthesising,
how much CO2 it’s taking up and creating sugar with. At the end of the experiment we’ll also weigh
all of the biomass, all of the biomass that the plant has produced per room. And hopefully with all of those measurements
we will be able to basically say that the Smart Glass is doing one thing or the other. We also will be doing analysis on the fruit
themselves to see if there’s any differences in nutritional quality of the fruit because
we don’t only want to just save on cost but we want to make sure that the fruit
is actually still nutritious and of the industry standard that is expected.

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