US: Potatoes grown with NASA technology

In an attempt to keep astronauts fed while in orbit, NASA has been working toward perfecting fresh produce production in a controlled environment. And a Watertown-based business could be a beneficiary of the work. CSS Farms, headquartered in Watertown, has brought in NASA technology to help its work on Earth. Using NASA’s nutrient film technique in a climate-controlled greenhouse in Colorado City, Colo., CSS Farms has become a Colorado-certified seed potato grower. Certified seed potatoes are those that meet the standards of an official seed certification agency.

High-tech tubers
The nutrient film technique uses hydroponics by continuously feeding nutrient-rich water to the roots of the crops. It is a low-volume, low-mass growing technique that does not have much standing water, an important aspect when growing food in space.

NASA scientist Ray Wheeler discussed how the agency began looking to grow field crops in controlled environments and how the research in orbit led to opportunities for agriculture on Earth.   “Tomatoes, lettuces and ornamental plants have all been grown in greenhouses before,” he said. “We were looking at crops that we don’t typically think about growing in controlled environment agriculture. Field crops like wheat, soybeans, potatoes and rice.”

The economic challenges on the space station are different than those faced by farmers working the soil. They revealed that many field crops are best left grown in the ground and not via the nutrient film technique.

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