The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is providing a $2,591,231 grant through its Precision Indoor Plants (PIP) Consortium to prevent discoloration in indoor-grown lettuce, while increasing lettuce yield and leaf quality. PIP partners AeroFarms, BASF, Benson Hill, Fluence by OSRAM and GreenVenus provided matching funds, for a total $4,792,131 investment. This is the first project funded by the PIP Consortium.
Lettuce is the third most consumed vegetable in the United States, but much of the produce is not marketable because the leaves are perishable and discolor after harvest. Wilted and discolored lettuce leaves are not only unappealing, but this discoloration also diminishes flavor, nutrition, consumer appeal and shelf life. According to FFAR, 46% of head lettuce and 55% of fresh romaine and leaf lettuce is wasted.
“Lettuce is a mainstay of the American diet, and this project will increase its flavor and nutrition for consumers – while also reducing food waste,” said Sally Rockey, PhD, FFAR executive director. “This project is using pioneering indoor agriculture science and technology to extend lettuce shelf life, resulting in more marketable food for consumers, less waste and increased profits for farmers.”
Farmers use chemicals and storage techniques to prevent post-harvest discoloration and preserve leaves, but these methods can be costly, and the protection they offer disappears when packaging is opened. PIP Lettuce Project researchers, led by Dr. Csanad Gurdon of AeroFarms, are studying how biological and environmental conditions in indoor grow environments affect post-harvest discoloration. Many environmental conditions affect lettuce metabolism and genes related to discoloration and growth, so the researchers are conducting growth experiments in an indoor environment where they can control changes in lighting, heat, humidity, fertilizers, irrigation and other factors.
The researchers are using the data and experimental results to aid in building and operating indoor grow environments that enable faster lettuce production. As the first project of the PIP Consortium, the results will have implications for other fruits and vegetables grown both indoors and outside. In addition, PIP partners are sharing their data and technology with each other, a collaboration that will guide future public-private efforts necessary for similar large-scale agriculture research.
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