By James Santua, Coleen Magahis, Raxenn Lachica
Strawberry production is now made possible in lowlands and hot areas through the vertical aeroponic system and root zone cooling technology, innovated by a biosystems engineer from Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.
Christopher Pascual came up with the concept of vertical farming when he was studying his masters and finishing his thesis at Central Luzon State University in 2017.
“The root zone cooling or the group heat exchanger system is being used for cooling buildings in other countries like Europe. I came up with the idea, ‘Why can’t we use it for plant production?’. So, I conceptualized the idea of using aeroponic,” Pascual said in an interview with the Manila Standard.
The production is housed in a 195-square-meter greenhouse in Barangay Licaong and a 72-square-meter land in CLSU.
Pascual said that it is very expensive to cool down a whole greenhouse to grow temperate crops in a hot environment like the Philippines, as strawberries are normally grown in Baguio or colder environments.
“We were able to reduce the cost of cooling the system or the whole greenhouse by just cooling down the roots of the plants. Eventually, we were able to produce strawberry fruits. For those who have tasted the fruits, they said it is much sweeter than those being produced in Benguet,” Pascual added.
The engineer explained that the technology itself can supply the right nutrients such as potassium to make the strawberries sweeter, and the light intensity in the lowlands also plays a big role.
“The light intensity or the sunlight is much available in the lowlands unlike in the highlands. The temperature has something to do with it. The higher the temperature exposure of the plants, the more sugar accumulation is much higher,” he added.
Vertical Aeroponic System
Producing crops in vertically piled layers or towers is known as the vertical aeroponic system. According to Pascual, he chooses to utilize towers since they are more versatile in terms of aeroponics.
“I prefer to use the towers, because when it comes to aeroponics it is more flexible. So, it is usually incorporated in a controlled environment production system,” Pascual said.
“We used towers so that it will accommodate more plants in a limited space. So, meaning you can have a more productive area, more production per unit area,” he added.
The vertical aeroponic system is also being used to enhance agricultural output in countries such as the United States of America, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands.
“So, it is proven that the main advantage of using vertical farming technology is to increase crop yield along with more plant population in a smaller production area or land area,” Pascual said.
“In a vertical farming system, the soil-less farming system technique, such as the aeroponic is in very in demand use or this aeroponic system is employed in order to establish a vertical farming system,” he added.
Root Zone Cooling Technology
Root zone cooling technology and the vertical aeroponic system go hand in hand. These are being used to avoid climatic conditions or the effects of environmental circumstances in tropical countries like the Philippines.
Root zone cooling technology was developed and launched in order to cultivate heat-sensitive crops. As per Pascual, these are crops such as strawberries, lettuce, and other high-value crops that are only produced in a cold climate.
“The principle is they introduce root zone cooling alone without cooling the canopy of the plant. So, in this scheme we reduce the cost of cooling, instead of making the whole room cool down or the entire greenhouse,” Pascual said.
“So, what we do is we only cool down the root zone of the plants in a way cooling down the whole plants. So, in this scheme we can grow heat sensitive even in a hot and humid environment like the Philippines,” he added.
This explains why the usage of aeroponics is essential. Aeroponics gives air and water to the roots of the plants, and root zone cooling technology will function through this medium.
Potential Effect to the Economy and Society
Introducing controlled environment agriculture or the use of greenhouses will help cultivate the crops from the tropical storms in the Philippines. The use of controlled environment agriculture has a potential to boost the economy of the Philippines in terms of crop production.
“Definitely it will boost our economy in terms of crop production because first, we will avoid damages with our crops; second, we can produce more crops in a limited area. So, ‘yun ‘yung advantage ng technology nito,” Pascual said.
Pascual said that the adaptability of this technology is not limited to rural areas, but also in urban areas. Introducing this technology will help community based sectors to produce their own crops.
“This kind of technology is not difficult to understand and learn, so I do believe anyone who wants to adapt can do so. It's not limited to farmers. I believe all of us, especially in the urban setting, we need to produce our own food to minimize our movement, especially this Covid-19 pandemic,” he said. “In fact we already have some memorandum of agreements with some LGUs like Baler and Pampanga. We somehow provided them some assistance although it's not yet done.”
Pascual also emphasized that the use of this technology will avoid food waste and spoilage of agricultural products because of the harsh environment and tropical storms.