Scientists harvest 1st vegetables in Antarctic greenhouse – AP, 06 Apr 2018
Alternative agriculture has a spectrum of controls that loosely mirror conditions in scientific experiments. On one end, you have natural, observational science, where all variability is expressed and you follow natural response and reaction. At the other polar end, hyper-controlled lab studies where every non-treatment variable is made consistent and controlled. The further you can reduce variability and isolate the change produced by a treatment, the greater certainty you can express in suggesting correlation.
This is true in alternative agriculture too. There’s a spectrum of controls, and as you increase control over variability, you increase cost. The choice to provide light, either entirely or supplementally, was never a historic choice, but we now possess both the ability and foresight to see that certain environments may produce healthier plants when exposure to light is quantified. For example, the international space station provides 100% artificial light to it’s crops and research plants, not for any physiological reason, but because windows sufficient to bring in ‘daylight’ are impractical to the extreme on a space station. Further, the station ‘day’ is so short because of the incredible speed of orbit, and the quick flux of ‘day’ and ‘night’ would throw off the photoperiods of flowering and vegetation cycling.
So, it’s exciting to see these hyper-reduced input trials because it expands out capacity to control variability and create optimas for non-earth conditions. It’s a little reductionist, but every plant has fundamental needs that we can understand and provide, adjusting levels and concentrations until peak plant happiness is achieved. There are invisible, synergistic connections that may be hard or impossible to replicate, such as the relationship between soil bacteria and plant roots, but pushing the scope of our understanding to show that with X light on a cycle of Y hours, with a nutrient concentration of Z mixture at whatever dilution produces clean crop after so many days is immensely valuable. And finally, such research is necessary, because we take for granted the consistency of the earth’s predictable nature, but we can with confidence say that human existence has shifted the balance of those patterns and we are now subject to much greater variability in climate. Regional, ancestral farming knowledge will fail as rainfall either arrives or does not, and people will suffer by consequence. We can improve on the old model that valued only total yield, and not the cost of inputs, the efficiency of scale, and the environmental cost of abusing the land to push higher production.