The population of northern Canada could soon be fed using the same technology that scientists employ to grow crops in space, according to a Wednesday statement by a professor at the University of Guelph.
Michael Dixon, a professor of environmental systems in Ontario, wrote that the environment of northern Canada resembles that of Mars from an agricultural perspective, since both areas require artificial environments to grow food.
“Canada is among the world’s leaders in biological life support research and technology development,” Dixon wrote. “This is because, when it comes to farming, the severe conditions of space are similar to those in the northern parts of our country.”
Dixon thinks that agriculture on Mars and in Northern Canada will be redesigned to ensure the highest possible crop yield. This could be done by altering the color and intensity of light to each individual crop, as well as artificially controlling air pressure, temperature, nutrients, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and humidity to create the ideal atmosphere where plants can grow.
“Trying to grow a tomato on Mars is much like trying to grow a tomato in a snowbank,” Dixon wrote. “You can’t without creating a controlled environment.”
The minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit average temperature of Mars is roughly similar to the record low of the northern Canadian city of Yellowknife. Neither environment can support conventional agriculture, partially due to these extreme temperatures. Technology developed to support a Martian colony could also be put to use feeding towns like Yellowknife.
“Today, we spend millions of dollars flying perishable food to Northern Canada, such as buying strawberries from Mexico for sale in Yellowknife,” Dixon wrote. “This doesn’t make sense. Sustaining our presence in the North depends on food production in the same way that sustaining our presence on Mars will.”
Dixon’s work concludes that agricultural crops can function under bizarre environmental conditions like very low atmospheric pressures and with drastically less oxygen than on Earth. This means that astronauts may not need enclosed structures that precisely replicate Earth’s atmosphere to grow crops on Mars after all.
“If we are to travel to Mars and support long-term exploration missions, we need bio-regenerative, self-sustaining food production systems,” Dixon wrote. “Farming in space is probably one of the biggest challenges we will have to overcome if we are ever going to spend extended periods on the red planet within the next 150 years. But it’s a challenge Canadians can definitely lead in tackling.”
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