Aeroponic container farms offer the potential to grow high value fresh produce 24/7. Jack Farmer, Co-founder and CSO, of LettUs Grow will explain at “CEA is Growing Up” how the company is pioneering a new concept in farming with its Drop & Grow aeroponic container farms. During the first lockdown of 2020 the technology company devoted production from its R&D facility in Bristol to local food banks. This showed on a small scale how there is an opportunity for a new type of value chain to feed urban populations.
We have created an aeroponic container farm, called Drop & Grow, which includes everything you need to start growing fresh produce, it utilises our automated management software. The aeroponic container farms are portable and can be moved with the kit pre-installed, they are also modular so they can be scaled as required. This new product will be despatched across the UK in the first half of this year
The smaller model Drop & Grow:24 is primarily focussed on people entering the horticultural space, be they entrepreneurs, new growers, agriculturalists who weren’t previously into CEA. Some units are also being funded by a philanthropic fund or government finance as an educational or community tool to get newcomers interested in growing.
Most productive container farm on the market
We expect Drop & Grow to be one of the most productive, ethical, and easy to use container farms on the market. It is a core part of our strategy to be the leading technology provider in this space.
Container farms are a distinct market opportunity that offers high levels of brand impact but we are also working with large-scale growers as Drop & Grow can also be used for propagation of plants for use in greenhouses or field. The farm management and control software Ostara, has been designed within a vertical farm but has applicability to different types of CEA including glasshouse.
Our approach is very collaborative, working with our partners to see how we can add value by integrating our technologies. A key part of our growth strategy is to be selling our core technologies at a larger scale for usage in a broad spectrum of settings ranging from glasshouses to vertical farms.
To support this ambition, we’ve got collaborations with academics in University of Bristol, JIC and Uni of York. Projects range from investigations of root morphology and root exudates, speed breeding programs for developing economies, through to more plant physiological investigation of how you would breed for a vertical farm. These are generally programmes that have broader impact outside of LettUs Grow.
Prospects for 2021
2021 is looking really exciting, regardless of what happens with Covid – supermarkets are investing to ensure a sustainable source of food production in the UK, which is what CEA provides. Access to capital for building horticultural installations is also very good.
Two interesting trends that will impact CEA are:
- Boom in online shopping – online is massively benefitting from the pandemic, and a lot of the bigger vertical farms are now positioning themselves as distribution centres next to the food distribution centre – I think that trend will continue
- Growth in ‘experiential’ side of food and retail – the collapse of traditional high-street retail is probably an accelerated long-term trend – but the question as to what replaces it. Container farming as we do it is essentially experiential growing – the fact that the farm is very visible and local to consumers of the product has significant brand value to surrounding restaurants and supermarkets.
There is quite a big pull in the UK right now – it’s a good place for CEA – still being a small company, we need to collaborate with bigger players in order to feel that pull. So the UK is certainly taking all of our short-term attention.