How can the biology of a crop be manipulated for greater profits in this fast-growing market through breeding?
Since early farmers began collecting seeds for propagation, they focused on varieties that performed best in unpredictable field conditions, not in highly controlled environments. Specifically, crop plants exude up to 40% photosynthate into the soil to "feed" beneficial microbes and allocate additional resources to produce secondary products to protect against pests and diseases.
Unlocking the full potential of seed for precisely controlled environments, where every day is a good day, will allow breeders to focus on plant characteristics that improve when grown indoors and downplay problems that would be of great concern for outdoor production. As we control the environment more, we can engineer crops with traits to delight the consumer and improve the supply chain.
Marc Oshima, co-founder of AeroFarms, says, "For vertical farms, breeders can focus on qualities of primary importance to consumers: flavor, aroma, texture, and other quality-related attributes. It's also important to have plants that are architecturally efficient so that they can be easily maintained and harvested in our unique environment."
The biggest breeding goals for field-grown fruits and vegetables are disease resistance. Breeders are spinning on a treadmill to stay ahead of the next disease in the field. It's not simply a matter of swapping disease-resistant genes for genes that confer good flavor, but CEA allows breeders to stay ahead of the next potentially devastating disease outdoors. Some diseases, such as powdery mildew, are possible indoors but can often be controlled by management practices.