BINLEY, UK: A new Agri-tech lab due to open at Pershore College early in 2017, will be using a specially commissioned hybrid version of two hydroponics and aquaponics systems created by Coventry-based horticultural innovators HydroGarden, to teach future students new growing techniques.
Installation and staff training on the unique combined version of HydroGarden’s vertical farming solution, VydroFarm, and its aquaponics system, FishPlant, have been completed. The VydroFarm-FishPlant system will be used to educate Post-16 and degree level students on hydroponics and aquaponics as sustainable alternatives to traditional farming methods, as pressure on world food supplies increases, and world economies look to innovation for viable solutions.
Speaking about the new installation, HydroGarden’s commercial manager, Stephen Fry, said: “It’s always especially exciting to be involved in bringing our new innovations to the attention of the next generation of horticulturalists and farmers. It is students including those at Pershore College, who are going to be instrumental in meeting the challenges the horticultural industry will be facing during their own lifetimes, challenges that we have to prepare for now and help other countries to prepare for too.”
The Agri-tech Centre, as well as a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) Centre, are the latest teaching facilities created as the result of a major redevelopment programme at the College. In March, a new £5.8m building hosting a state-of-the-art Collections House, living wall, library and classroom was officially opened by former Pershore student and ‘Love Your Garden’ TV presenter, David Domoney.
Pershore College, situated on a 60 hectare site near Evesham, Worcestershire, is one of seven colleges in the Warwickshire College Group. It is regarded as a national centre for horticulture and land-based learning and its focus is to inspire young people to embark on careers with the UK’s agri-tech sector, and support employers by providing leading edge research and innovation, and skilled employees. It attracts students from all over the UK and internationally to study horticulture, arboriculture, animal welfare, veterinary nursing and many more full-time and part-time courses and apprenticeships, for Post-16 and degree level study.
John King, project manager, Estates Department at Pershore College, commented on how the new system will offer current students a valuable learning opportunity, as well as provide an inspirational talking point for future students: “Management of the hybrid hydroponic-aquaponic system will be integrated into the coursework of several courses here at Pershore. In the first instance, our Animal Care students will be responsible for carrying out regular testing to monitor and manage the water quality and the subsequent health of the fish and the plants. These readings will be shared with our horticulture students whose focus will be the produce, initially lettuces, which will be grown from seed in separate propagators before being transplanted into the hydroponics part. If the plants are less than healthy the students will have a real life scenario to determine what is going wrong and what factors need to be altered such as lighting, nutrient flow and temperature. Once grown, the produce will be harvested and given to the Animal Care students to feed to the rabbits and other small herbivores in the department. We also plan to invest in a larger vertical farming unit in the future so that any students who are particularly interested in hydroponics will be able to take their knowledge and learning to the next level by working on a larger scale. In addition, the system is intended to be a showpiece in the reception area of the new Agritech and STEM centre to stimulate interest from potential students, parents and visiting pupils from local schools, about the science behind how it works. We hope it will inspire them to ask questions and perhaps consider doing a course here at a later date.”
The fish tank for the hybrid system was designed and installed by Nick Chan from Aquarium Cabinet Solutions, based in Doncaster, who also supplied the fish.
VydroFarm offers an affordable, fully automated vertical hydroponic farming solution for growing premium fresh vegetables in situations where growing space is limited, such as urban areas or where there is an adverse climate for agriculture. It also reduces the amount of time it takes to grow each crop while also using less 50% less water. The aquaponics part of the hybrid system utilises the waste created by fish to grow fresh produce.
As well as the VydroFarm-FishPlant system from HydroGarden, other innovations to be incorporated into the Centre include UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), used to support horticultural processes in growing techniques, with HD, thermal and multi-spectral imaging. Gaming equipment and high-spec PCs will enable students to create simulations and visualisations of different environments, together with GPS and GIS surveying equipment, sensor technology and robotics.
VydroFarm and FishPlant systems have also been used at several other education establishments for training and research purposes, including the University of Nottingham, Peterborough Regional College and the University of Liverpool.
Pictured are Estates manager for Pershore College, John King (left), with HydroGarden’s commercial sales manager, Stephen Fry (right)