SERDANG: Eating fresh, clean vegetables and herbs coming straight from a plant factory might soon be the norm.
The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi), which built such a factory a few years ago, is set to expand research and development (R&D) into areas like energy efficiency and alternative energy, mechanisation and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Senior research officer Mohammad Abid Ahmad said prior to this, Mardi had conducted R&D on production systems, crop agronomy management, crop lighting, biological factor management, zero waste management, market research and product value chain.
“As the factory enters its fourth year of operation, we find that various R&D projects can be carried out from monitoring the vegetables grown here.
“As the plant factory technology is quite foreign and still new in the country, many technical elements need to be explored, ” he told Bernama.
Mohammad Abid said the idea to set up the plant factory came in 2012 when a local company, in collaboration with a company from Japan, expressed the desire to introduce such a system in the country.
The local company held discussions with Mardi to seek its cooperation to develop a pilot project before introducing it to farmers or individuals who were interested.
Mohammad Abid said Mardi then took the initiative to conduct R&D to develop a plant factory, which is a crop production system in a controlled environment that includes factors such as growth, lighting, irrigation, fertilisation, temperature, humidity and ventilation.
Currently, the 2,400sq m plant with a height of 20m is equipped with technology that can accommodate 16,000 vegetables at a time.
On the types of vegetables that are suitable to be grown using the technology, he said research found that leafy vegetables and herbs were most suitable and able to survive under artificial lighting systems.
He said all the vegetables were placed under multi-coloured light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that could keep the crops free from pests and diseases.
“Among the suitable crops are lettuce, curly kale, mustard and oregano, ” said Mohammad Abid, who has served at Mardi for 15 years.
The Bioindustry Science graduate from Universiti Putra Malaysia also shared some of the advantages of vegetables grown at the factory, namely they will be free of pesticides and hygienic, and do not need to be washed prior to being cooked or eaten.
In addition, he said the vegetables also grew quickly and were ready to be harvested within 25 to 40 days.
“The number of crop rotations can also be increased from eight to 15 rounds a year. With this, the plant factory is able to ensure a sustainable food supply and does not depend on external weather conditions, ” he said.
Apart from the quality and productivity factors of the vegetables, he said the gardening conditions in the factory were also conducive, clean and comfortable for a modern farmer. — Bernama