Western Sydney University, The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR), Bangalore and the Indian Institute for Spices Research (IISR), Calicut and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University have come together to launch a Centre in High Tech Protected Cropping Systems. This will help address the impact of the changing climate on crop production. It will have two nodes, one each at IIHR, Bengaluru and IISR, Calicut.

The Centre will investigate hi-tech aeroponic crop production, crop health monitoring technologies with advanced sensors and cameras and ways to standardise pollination as part of a pilot, with a focus on innovation in aeroponics for high value crops such as microgreens, berries, cut flowers and spices under different lighting and nutrient conditions.

“The collaboration builds on the very productive partnership between the university and ICAR ,” said Western Sydney University Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Barney Glover AO . “Through cutting-edge research, the Centre will explore new, sustainable approaches of production to enhance food security and farming livelihood,” Glover said. The jointly funded research would focus on developing pollination techniques in crops such as strawberry, mango and saffron in protected cultivation, he said.

Other focus areas

Besides focussing on technology transfer, the collaboration will focus on capacity and skill building among early career scientists in the area of aeroponics.

Western Sydney University has been running long-term projects with ICAR and 23 other institutes across the country and aeroponics will add a new chapter to the collaboration, said Prof Ian Anderson, Director, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment. In Australia, aeroponics is still in its infancy and the country is looking at the technology to address the impact of climate change.

ICAR’s Deputy Director General, AK Singh, said this is an important pilot for finding cost-effective farming that is not climate dependent. “Production using automated glass house technology is too expensive for large-scale adoption in India. Working with Western Sydney University and other partners, we have an opportunity to bring together world class researchers from Australia and India to standardise production systems for high value crops like berries, greens, cut flowers and spices,” he said.

“This partnership in vegetables, berries and cut flowers at the IIHR and in spices at the IISR, plays a critical role in developing efficient, low-cost vertical growing systems for large scale adoption — sustainable farming technologies for the future,” said Debi Sharma, Director, IIHR

Thankamony, Director, IISR said, “Vertical farming can ensure high productivity in spaces per unit area, which means 50-60 per cent more harvest per unit area. However, these resources can only be effectively leveraged when adapted to Indian conditions, requiring a targeted research and development programme.

The Centre in High Tech Protected Cropping Systems will aid in increasing the farming community’s produce and thereby their income. The research programmes will be managed by Debi Sharma,, Thankamony and Nisha Rakhesh, Senior Advisor (Research Strategy), Western Sydney University.

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