Protein plant factories: producing and steering soybean protein content in indoor farming

In rich countries there is an increasing consumer interest towards plant-based protein compared to animal ones, due to health and environmental concerns as well as animal welfare. Nowadays, Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), such as greenhouses and vertical farming, are already being used to produce highly nutritious crops with improved functional ingredients (e.g., minerals, vitamins), that are beneficial to human health.

Protein-rich crops are generally grown in extensive, open field cultivations, however, the production in a controlled environment offers the opportunity to steer crop physiological mechanisms, provided there is sufficient understanding of crop response to the environment.

The study investigates the effects of light spectrum (R:B ratio) and air temperature on improving soybean yield and seed protein quantity. The ultimate goal is to analyze the potential of growing high-value protein-rich crops in CEA and its feasibility in terms of production, tailored content of ingredient, energy and resource use efficiency. We conducted an experiment with two varieties of Soybean (Glycine max) in combination with two temperature treatments and R:B ratios.

We did observe morphological and yield differences among cultivars and under the two combinations of temperature and light spectrum, suggesting that there is an effect of the treatments applied. The performance of soybean in CEA in terms of productivity, protein content and resource use is further discussed and compared with open field cultivation.

A presentation by Isabella Righini, Researcher in Greenhouse Horticulture at Wageningen University & Research at the Vertical Farming Conference, part of the Agrifood Innovation Event.

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