Is there wheat on Mars?

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Could Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) be the key to growing wheat on Mars? 

Scientists are conducting an early stage research project to explore the potential of off-world food production, to further support human space exploration and push the boundaries of innovation.

The project centres around cultivating wheat indoors, specifically within a vertical farm environment, and involves Red Planet Farms and agri-tech centre Crop Health and Protection (CHAP).

Founder and CEO of Red Planet Farms, Chris Fisher, said: “As the global events of 2022 demonstrated, humanity needs to develop creative new ways to secure the future of food production, for one, maximising the potential of CEA technologies.

“We’re immensely interested in how these technologies can be utilised in off-world applications, beyond our current planet. This is because we believe colonies and space exploration missions of the future cannot rely on resupply missions from Earth.

Fully self-sufficient astronauts

“Instead, they will need to be fully self-sufficient in high calorie food production, to ensure that astronauts have access to fresh, nutrient-dense produce.”

The research is taking place at CHAP’s Vertical Farming Development Centre (VFDC) at Stockbridge Technology Centre near York. The facility offers the testing and development of new technologies for vertical farms, as well as variety trials and crop breeding.

For this project, work is focusing on the early stages of wheat growth, from germination through to crop establishment. Agronomic variables such as crop varieties, sowing density, substrates, irrigation regimes and lighting requirements will be investigated. 

It is hoped the results will provide insight to build initial guidelines for complete indoor wheat production.

Obvious challenges

Technical liaison Officer for CHAP, Lucy Plowman, is overseeing the project’s practical work. She said: “Cultivating wheat within a vertical farm presents many obvious challenges. However, research is already taking place that evaluates the potential of growing energy-intensive crops such as cereals, within alternative growing environments.

“If successful, this would offer an alternative system and contribute towards future food security challenges, for both on- and off-world populations.

“We look forward to shaping our understanding of what the future could look like in an ever-changing world, maximising the benefits of CEA beyond what we previously thought possible.”

The project is being funded by the RTO Grant Support Scheme operated by Innovate UK EDGE. 

The scheme enables SMEs to apply for grants to access services offered by Research & Technology Organisations (RTOs) and the UK’s Catapult network, and is aimed at businesses looking to grow and scale through innovation.

For more information about this project, contact CHAP at or visit

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