Peterborough student wins national farming award for innovative scheme to improve plant growth

A Peterborough student has won a major farming award after developing a new lighting system to help improve plant growth.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 6:47 pm
Roland with NFU President Minette Batters. Photo: Chris Athanasiou.

Roland Christopher (12), from the King’s School, was one of nine winners of the National Farmers’ Union of England and Wales’ (NFU) Farmvention competition who exhibited ideas to aid climate-smart farming and food production at the House of Commons last week (November 24).

Children from the winning schools showed MPs how they utilised their Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills and knowledge to develop practical tools for sustainable farming.

The winning inventions were among hundreds of designs submitted by students for Farmvention, which teaches STEM subjects through the lens of agriculture and farming.

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Roland chats with Peterborough MP Paul Bristow. Photo: Chris Athanasiou.

This year, the focus was on the aim for British farming to be net zero by 2040. As well as attending the House of Commons event, the winning schools received £1,000 to spend on STEM or outdoor learning equipment.

For his winning entry, Roland investigated which combination of coloured lights would be best for growing crops, and then used his computer programming skills to develop an Arduino based lighting system. He came up with the results of 80 percent red and 20 percent blue as the optimum mix.

He said: “Plants require different coloured lights depending on the phase of their lifecycle. By producing the right coloured light to match the plant growth stage, energy costs can be substantially reduced. This system would also be useful to monitor plants and stunt the growth of certain bugs.

“I was delighted when I heard I had won and I’ve really enjoyed coming here to London and presenting my findings.”

Science teacher Dr Jane Combrink, who attended the event with Roland, added: “The school was so excited when this was announced, and we were delighted to be represented here in London with the other winners.

“Everyone is really proud of Roland. He has shown an amazing amount of maturity when putting the competition entry together.”

At the event, NFU President Minette Batters awarded the students a trophy to mark their achievement, telling them “You are the pioneers of the future.”

She said: “There has been a huge focus on climate change this year so it’s only right that we celebrate our Climate Superheroes – not just the farmers who deliver sustainable food for our plates every day, but the creatives and scientists who come up with the new technologies that enable us to do it.

“The ingenuity of the inventions showcased today is truly exciting and I hope this experience has inspired children about the possibilities within both farming and STEM careers.”

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow was also among those who attended the Farmvention event. He described Roland’s win as “inspiring.” He added: “It’s really impressive and he makes me proud of Peterborough.

“I think the Farmvention competition is fantastic. The more we get young people thinking about farming, thinking about food, and where it comes from, the better. This is a really innovative and imaginative way of doing that.”

Other winning projects included designing drones to help solve the problem of flooding in Lincolnshire, a vertical farming system to enable crops to be grown in salt marshes, and a carbon labelling system for British flowers.