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Good news for salad producers growing under cover and hit by energy costs

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE
Increasing yield with same inputs would improve productivity

Growers hit by energy increases could increase productivity with a novel seed treatment. Results from Zayndu show yield increases of 10 – 27% in yield of herb and salad crops and more rapid germination following treatment with its Aurora plasma-tech.

Improving productivity could offer a significant impact for the sector according to Bernhard Strauss, Director of Research and Operations, at consultancy firm Camrosh. He has just completed an analysis of the energy requirements of the controlled environment horticulture sector for Defra, in collaboration with the Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge.

He comments that recent research* shows plantings are being scaled back by up to 20% this year with many growers walking away from contracts and considering withdrawing from the sector. Autumn and winter planting in heated glasshouses will be reduced due to energy costs.

Yield increase with same inputs

Strauss says: “The pressure on growers is only likely to accelerate, especially in the high-tech glasshouse sector as energy costs remain staggeringly high. Even more so in Vertical Farming where typical electricity inputs per year are ~300kWh/m2 for HVAC, dehumidification systems, pumps etc, plus ~700kWh/m2 for lighting; so with energy costs increasing by 156%, commercial viability is a real issue.

“Hence, a possible yield increase in the range of 15% without additional inputs would be of great interest to the VF sector and for different types of glasshouse and polythene tunnel growing. Achieving consistent yield increases at this level by another method would need an increase in material inputs or labour.”

Although leafy greens, such as lettuce as well as herb crops such as basil, cress, chive, parsley, dill and coriander are currently grown to a large extent in different types of low-tech greenhouses and polythene tunnels, they are particularly suitable for the VF sector. With larger VF operators able to grow as many as 15-20 ‘harvests’ per year through tightly staggered planting cycles over an area footprint of less than half a hectare.

Zayndu increases yield with Aurora plasma tech
Trials show yield increases of up to 27% of some baby leaf

The Zayndu Aurora System uses low energy plasma-technology to treat the seeds in small batches prior to planting. The treatment takes minutes to complete and produces no waste – just clean air and seeds.

In trials it has found that the yield increases on average: Chive 10%, Parsley 10%, Coriander 15%, Dill 27%. This yield increase, when multiplied by 20 harvests, with no additional energy requirement, would have a significant impact on margins.

Furthermore, the Aurora system, increased germination of Spinach from 80% to 95% and accelerated it by approximately 1.5 days. Leafy greens have short growth cycles with germination times of two to three weeks and 4 to 8 weeks to harvest depending on crop; shaving 1.5 days from each cycle can also increase throughput.

Research by Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) has found that shelf life is longer for vertical farmed produce, with lettuce lasting three weeks (compared to one week for open field), and water use is less, with 250 L/kg in field compared to 1 L/kg in a vertical farm.

Increasing productivity when energy costs bite

Strauss continues: “Although energy input per unit crop is still much larger in VF compared to growing under glass or polythene tunnels where natural light and ambient temperature is used at no cost, creating opportunities to increase productivity will help make it more commercially viable, particularly in extremes of climate where other resources are scarce.”

More about Zayndu

*The real impact of cost pressures on the horticulture sector, Promar International research commissioned by NFU 15th November 2022.

Glasshouse fruit and vegetable growers cut back on production

From electric vehicles to electrified air, Zayndu appoints new Head of Engineering

Member News
Agri-TechE

This content is hosted by Agri-TechE as part of its service to its members. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individual/organisation that supplied the content and not those of Agri-TechE or its employees. This content is hosted by Agri-TechE as part of its service to its members. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individual/organisation that supplied the content and not those of Agri-TechE or its employees. Andrew Neil (Head of Engineering at Zayndu)As agri-tech start-up Zayndu looks to scale up its Aurora chemical-free seed disinfectant system it has appointed Andrew Neil in the new role of Head of Engineering to lead product development. Andrew joins from Jaguar Land Rover where he headed up a team supporting the company’s ambitions for an electrified and autonomous future. His knowledge of digital twins – virtual representations of complex real-world systems – will bring new insights into the optimisation and automation of Zayndu’s plasma technology.

Vertical farms and controlled environments offer the potential for intensive, year-round production of salads and other crops. As human contact is minimised and growing media sterilised, seeds become the main remaining vector for pathogens. Zayndu’s Aurora system addresses this by removing fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms from the seed using a plasma – air activated with an electrical current – this enables effective cleaning without the need for chemicals or water.

The company is seeing international interest in the technology and needs to ramp up production to meet customer need.

Ralph Weir, CEO of Zayndu, a spinout from University of Loughborough, says: “I’m delighted to be welcoming Andrew Neil to our team as Head of Engineering. Andrew is a veteran of the premium car industry and joins us from JLR, where his career saw him take responsibility for key systems in high performance powertrains*, including leading the team responsible for delivering powertrain build and test operations for JLR’s recent prototype electric and hybrid vehicles.

“His experience in precision manufacturing and the demanding standards for quality and environment expected of the automotive industry will be key to driving Zayndu’s product development and manufacture.”

Andrew is exchanging management of a team of 150 automotive engineers for a smaller multidisciplinary team of physicists, software developers and engineers, and will be working alongside Zayndu’s biologists and plant scientists.

He comments: “The opportunity to work with this dedicated team to deliver a high-quality product that addresses an issue with impact across the agriculture industry, is inspirational.”

The Aurora system is currently available in two sizes: Z10 and Z25. Expanding the range to enable greater volumes of seed to be treated would significantly increase the market opportunities.

Additionally, remote management of the system would support further automation of controlled growing environments. Andrew’s knowledge of using digital twins to model and prototype complex control systems will accelerate new product development.

Andrew continues: “There is potential for significant growth through existing and new product offerings. My initial focus will be to work with the team to deliver a product that is robust and ready for the global market, including certification. To achieve this, we will be developing and deploying advanced data management tools to ensure the in-service reliability of the product and working closely with end-users to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction.

“Looking to the future, I see opportunities for collaboration with the wider engineering industry, and the scientific and academic communities, to advance understanding of plasma agriculture. This is a very exciting opportunity that I am proud to be part of; it links with my values and activates my creative interest.”

 Read more about Zayndu.