SERDANG: The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) is set to expand research and development (R&D) at its plant factory on several aspects such as energy efficiency and alternative energy, mechanisation and the Internet of Things (IoT).
MARDI Senior Research Officer Mohammad Abid Ahmad said prior to this, they had conducted R&D on production systems, crop agronomy management, crop lighting, biological factor management, zero waste management, market research and product value chain.
“As the factory enters its fourth year of operation, we (Mardi) find that various R&D can be carried out from monitoring the vegetables grown here.
“As the plant factory technology is quite foreign and still new in the country, many technical elements need to be explored,“ he told Bernama.
Mohammad Abid said the idea to establish the plant factory came in 2012 when a local company in collaboration with a company from Japan, expressed the desire to introduce such a system in the country.
The local company held discussions with Mardi to seek cooperation to develop a pilot project before introducing it to other farmers or individuals who were interested.
Mohammad Abid said Mardi then took the initiative to conduct R&D to develop a plant factory, which is a crop production system in a controlled environment that includes factors such as growth, lighting, irrigation, fertilisation, temperature, humidity and ventilation.
Currently, the 2400 sqm plant with a height of 20m is equipped with technology that can accommodate 16,000 vegetables at a time.
On the types of vegetables that are suitable to be grown using the technology, he said the research found that leafy vegetables and herbs were most suitable and able to survive under artificial lighting systems.
He said all the vegetables were placed under multi-coloured light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that could keep the crops free from pests and diseases.
“Among the suitable crops are lettuce, curly kale, mustard and oregano,“ said Mohammad Abid, who has served at Mardi for 15 years.
He also shared some of the advantages of vegetables grown at the factory, namely being free of pesticides as well as hygienic, and do not need to be washed prior to eating or cooking.
In addition, he said the vegetables also grew quickly and ready to be harvested within 25 to 40 days.
“The number of crop rotations can also be increased from eight to 15 rounds a year. With this, the plant factory is able to ensure sustainable food supply and does not depend on external weather conditions,” he said.
Apart from the quality and productivity factors of the vegetables, he said the gardening conditions in the factory were also conducive, clean and comfortable for a modern farmer.
Asked about the adoption of the technology here, Mohammad Abid, who is also an instructor for the agricultural training course conducted by Mardi, said 20 participants had so far been trained from 10 local companies that have begun the plant factories on a small scale.
“Mardi has conducted more than 12 series of courses and training for participants from 2019 to 2020. This year, we have postponed the courses due to the Covid-19 pandemic,“ said the Bioindustry Science graduate from Universiti Putra Malaysia. -Bernama