Many vertical farms struggle with ensuring optimal food safety conditions. Bacteria in the growth media are regarded with great suspicion according to Dr. Leonard Lerer, Founder, and CEO of Back of the Yard Algae Sciences (BYAS). He explains that “…most say that good vertical farming is bacteria-free, but bacteria are always present and play an important role in plant growth”. A key concern and challenge of soilless agriculture is the rapid dispersion, colonization, and domination of potentially dangerous microorganisms in the recirculated nutrient medium. Such contamination can come from a myriad of sources, such as the air, irrigation solution, fertilizer, seed, and humans.
Humans have over 1 trillion friendly bugs that habit our bodies in the gut, skin, lungs, and mouth. This human microbiome intimately and symbiotically interacts and influences everything from digestion, sleep, mood, and immunity. Plants also have a microbiome, which is especially important at the plant roots (or rhizosphere), analogous to the human gut. The plant microbiome is fundamental and necessary for healthy plant functioning and resistance, growth, and most importantly taste and nutritional quality, and shelf life of the final crop.
Recently the BYAS team conducted scouting microbiome gene sequencing to see how their potent plant biostimulant, BYAS-A601, influenced the bacteria communities in hydroponic vertical farms. The results were compelling, first, DNA sequencing indicated that BYAS-A601 significantly increasing the abundance of plant growth-promoting bacteria and decreasing the potentially dangerous bacteria. Second, an increase in the diversity and evenness of the microbiome community was observed. Just as for the human microbiome, the diversity of the plant microbiome is key to good health. Third, BYAS-A601 decreased the overall bacterial population by over 60%´.
BYAS-A601 could support a strategy for the reduction of costly disinfection such as ozone and UV-radiation, or synthetic agrochemicals in vertical farming while improving yield, food quality, and safety. Leonard concluded: “What we do is take an innovative natural and environmentally benign product and add it to the equation to help get vertical farming to be a real, long-term, and indispensable part of urban food systems”.