Future of basil production is up in the air, KPU research confirms

Tue, Feb 20, 2024

Researchers at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) have aided in the discovery of an efficient way to grow lush and fragrant basil plants without soil.

The research team at the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture (ISH) at KPU has been working with Surrey-based Aeroroot Systems to optimize a growing method of the popular herb using aeroponics. After successful trials at the ISH’s Langley greenhouses, researchers have developed a standard growing procedure that can be used for a future sustainable agriculture operation.

“Aeroroot’s project is a great example of how new technologies are being successfully applied to agriculture for commercialization,” says Dr. Deborah Henderson, ISH director. “It’s always gratifying when we can help and then see the success.”

Mohammad Ameri, ISH Research Assistant, and Peter Atwal, president of Aeroroot, inside the research greenhouses at KPU.
Mohammad Ameri, ISH Research Assistant, and Peter Atwal, president of Aeroroot, inside the research greenhouses at KPU.

Aeroroot’s vertical, air-based growing system uses 90 per cent less water and 70 per cent less fertilizer than traditional farming methods. It also uses minimal growing media, just enough to germinate a seed. 

To optimize growing, researchers at KPU tested everything from seed selection and production rate to growing media and nutrient volume. Trials were supported by high-tech systems monitoring for potential pests and diseases.

“When it comes to production, it’s really easy to draw something on paper, but to run it through three growth trials, that’s another,” says Peter Atwal, president of Aeroroot. “We wanted to validate that we could make a product using our technology. There’s nothing new about basil plants, but what is new is using our technology to produce them.”

High operating costs have long been prohibitive for vertical farming companies trying to make a profit. That’s why Atwal says his model will undergo further examination of energy costs before moving forward with building an efficient demonstration greenhouse.

“There’s so much uncertainty with farming technology and systems. To go big and to construct something huge is a capital mistake without actually building something at a smaller scale.”

Aeroroot’s project is among the first to be funded through the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation, a new research hub led by Simon Fraser University, bringing together experts from higher education in B.C., including KPU.

The ISH at KPU is a partnership of academia with B.C.’s horticultural industries and the community to support B.C. in meeting demands for a higher level of sustainability and environmental responsibility. Its researchers aim to provide innovative biological and technological solutions for use in agriculture and landscape management to strengthen sustainability and resiliency.