GROWING crops indoors could play a key role in the future of food security, according to a research project at Aberystwyth University.

However, the development of controlled environment agriculture and vertical farming technologies needs to accelerate to meet the challenges of future UK food security, according to the leader of a new research project.

Academics at Aberystwyth University have started a new project to research vertical farming, the process of producing food by growing it in stacked layers within controlled indoor environments.

This method helps farmers to produce much more on the same amount of land and reduce the environmental impact, and to avoid the future challenge presented by extreme weather events.

The new project aims to bring together experts from industry and academia to make this kind of farming more affordable.

Dr William Stiles from the Department of Life Sciences at Aberystwyth University, who is leading the project, said: “We know we need this technology – it’s vital to tackle potential food insecurity because of our changing climate. Vertical farming could be a key part of our future food production systems. One of the aspects we are looking at is the ability to switch food production into controlled environments at speed. We need to look at the technology and work to make it affordable and articulate a road map of what that future could look like.

“The vertical farming sector currently faces significant challenges as it transitions from technological infancy into the mainstream. It remains on the cusp of revolutionising food production, particularly for items too challenging to grow in this country’s existing agricultural system.”

The new research project is one of 16 across Welsh universities to be funded by the Wales Innovation Network’s small grant fund.

Lewis Dean, Head of the Wales Innovation Network (WIN), added: “The quality of bids in this year’s round of the small grant fund has been encouraging to see, with universities working together to submit very strong applications. I’m delighted that we have been able to award over £100,000 through our small grant fund to support collaborative research in Wales.

“Welsh research was recognised in REF 2021 for its positive impact on communities in Wales, the UK and across the world. I’m therefore particularly pleased that we have funded projects involving partners from local authorities, health boards, government, industry, and community groups to continue to deliver impactful research.

“WIN was established to strengthen research and innovation in Wales through collaboration and, after the success of last year’s small grant funding, I’m excited to see the outcomes of this year’s as we support our universities to build these partnerships.”

The Vertical Farming project is led by Aberystwyth University and also involves Cardiff Metropolitan University, Swansea University and Vertikit Ltd.

The Wales Innovation Work is a collaborative initiative set up to strengthen research and innovation in Wales, through increasing competitiveness, leveraging strategic investment, advocating Welsh research and innovation and sharing of facilities, equipment and practices between Welsh universities.