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New members increase diversity of Agri-TechE’s innovation ecosystem

Agri-TechE Article
Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

A record number of new members have joined Agri-TechE in recent months, further increasing the diversity and geographic spread of its innovation ecosystem. Agri-TechE’s Director of Communities, Becky Dodds, comments that successful business is all about knowing people and sharing knowledge.

She says: “We have found that the farmers at the heart of our ecosystem are deeply committed to building sustainable, productive businesses that will provide food security to future generations. They are open and willing to engage with researchers and technologists that can support them on that journey.

However, the challenges are complex and need a multi-disciplinary approach, so knowing who to talk to has become the game-changer. As a result, I dedicate much of my time to facilitating connections between people with common interests but very different perspectives.

Becky Dodds, Membership and Events Manager
Becky Dodds – Director of Communities

Within every organisation there are individuals who are passionate about making change and are able to see the opportunity to apply new technologies or new approaches to solve problems. It is those people we look for and introduce them to others with mutual interests.”

Ecosystems are internationally recognised as a way to accelerate and de-risk innovation by providing access to knowledge, collaborators, early-adopters, and sources of investment.

Recent developments in agriculture – including changes in farming practices in the transition to Net Zero, rapid digitalisation of all processes in the value chain from field to fork, diversification in crops and business models, increasing automation, and growing internationalism – are shared by other industries. Therefore, solutions being adopted by pharma, aerospace and manufacturing will have potential applications within agri-tech.

By introducing non-traditional players to agriculture into its ecosystem, Agri-TechE is facilitating the development of new applications and use-cases.

Becky continues: “Many of the obstacles to agri-tech adoption – interoperability, data analysis and sharing, easy-to-use interfaces, battery life, connectivity – are being tackled in other spheres. Part of our role is framing those challenges within an agrifood context to ensure the conversations are productive.”

The vibrancy and diversity of the membership can be illustrated with a small selection of recent members, who represent some of the emerging trends that we are seeing.

Regenerative farming uses a soil first strategy to increase crop resilience while reducing inputs such as inorganic fertiliser. A number of farmers are adopting this approach and supporting each other. New member, Goodley Farm Services, is using learning points from its own journey to diversify the farm business and create a cooperative with other farmers.

Carbon management is opening up as another revenue opportunity for farmers. Underpining this is the need for verified measurements of soil organic carbon. Ecometric has gained independent verification for its approach to quantifying an increase in sequestered carbon. This methodology will pave the way for the development of a carbon market and enable farmers to provide evidence needed for the government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive.

Auditing best practice in particular de-risking the business and efficiency improvements. Mandatory legislation coming into force in 2024 is accelerating progress towards Net Zero, but new members Aethr Associates are keen to demonstrate the other benefits that the reporting can offer.

Online markets for low carbon produce. Legislation around reducing carbon emissions in value chains is encouraging food businesses to pay a premium for low carbon produce. Agrasta is establishing an online platform that gives visibility of producers with good credentials to food and beverage companies looking to reach net-zero targets.

Predicting and forecasting – as ecosystems evolve innovation is multidimensional. The move to regen ag is also driving business process change in the agribusinesses that would traditionally provide inputs. Space-tech company Hyperplan, headquartered in France, is using satellite imagery ground truthed by its customers to provide objective information about crop performance and coverage to help inform new business models.

Overcoming resistance in pests. Many soils are rendered unusable for potatoes and other root vegetables due to the build up of nematodes resistant to inorganic pesticides. Members like Ecospray are developing plant protection products that are highly selective to a particular pest’s metabolic processes. It has been working with fellow members Earlham Institute and NIAB to develop a nematode deterrent based on garlic.

Supporting a move to industrial horticulture, it is a pivotal moment for undercover crops as high energy costs and shortage of skilled labour have forced many producers out of business. The current situation and ways forward have been reviewed by new members Camrosh, who are co-authors on a report that shows the potential for the sector to have a bright future, saying that the technologies needed to bring food security are already available

Indeed a good number of Agri-TechE members are developing solutions with Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) offering greater automation with its self-contained growth towers; Crystal Heart Salad creating plant plugs that can work with automated planters and Future Biogas offering renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. This is in addition to the work of long term members such as Lettus Grow.

Agri-TechE is an independent organisation funded and led by our members. We welcome industry veterans alongside new-to-ag companies, global conglomerates and family-run farms that together explore cutting-edge research to find innovations to support their businesses.

We offer flexible membership tiers to suit your individual needs. This includes brokered introductions, profile-raising initiatives, connections with international clusters, exclusive market opportunities, and strategic insights to assist business alignment with industry trends.

If you see a synergy with the members mentioned here or would like to discuss membership then do get in touch with Becky.

IGS growth towers
IGS growth towers offer self-contained environments
Hyperplan uses latest satellite imaging to improve prediction and forecasting of crop performance
Hyperplan uses latest satellite imaging to improve prediction and forecasting of crop performance
Crystal Heart plants in production
Crystal Heart Salad plant plugs in production

A record number of new members have joined Agri-TechE in recent months, further increasing the diversity and geographic spread of its innovation ecosystem. Agri-TechE’s Director of Communities, Becky Dodds, comments that successful business is all about knowing people and sharing knowledge.

Becky Dodds
Becky Dodds
Director of Communities

She says: We have found that the farmers at the heart of our ecosystem are deeply committed to building sustainable, productive businesses that will provide food security to future generations. They are open and willing to engage with researchers and technologists that can support them on that journey.

However, the challenges are complex and need a multi-disciplinary approach, so knowing who to talk to has become the game-changer. As a result, I dedicate much of my time to facilitating connections between people with common interests but very different perspectives.

Within every organisation there are individuals who are passionate about making change and are able to see the opportunity to apply new technologies or new approaches to solve problems. It is those people we look for and introduce them to others with mutual interests.”

Ecosystems driving innovation

Ecosystems are internationally recognised as a way to accelerate and de-risk innovation by providing access to knowledge, collaborators, early-adopters, and sources of investment.

Recent developments in agriculture – including changes in farming practices in the transition to Net Zero, rapid digitalisation of all processes in the value chain from field to fork, diversification in crops and business models, increasing automation, and growing internationalism – are shared by other industries. Therefore, solutions being adopted by pharma, aerospace and manufacturing will have potential applications within agri-tech.

By introducing non-traditional players to agriculture into its ecosystem, Agri-TechE is facilitating the development of new applications and use-cases.

Becky continues: “Many of the obstacles to agri-tech adoption – interoperability, data analysis and sharing, easy-to-use interfaces, battery life, connectivity – are being tackled in other spheres. Part of our role is framing those challenges within an agrifood context to ensure the conversations are productive.”

Current agri-tech trends

The vibrancy and diversity of the membership can be illustrated with a small selection of recent members, who represent some of the emerging trends that we are seeing.

Regenerative farming uses a soil first strategy to increase crop resilience while reducing inputs such as inorganic fertiliser. A number of farmers are adopting this approach and supporting each other. New member, Goodley Farm Services, is using learning points from its own journey to diversify the farm business and create a cooperative with other farmers.

Carbon management is opening up as another revenue opportunity for farmers. Underpining this is the need for verified measurements of soil organic carbon. Ecometric has gained independent verification for its approach to quantifying an increase in sequestered carbon. This methodology will pave the way for the development of a carbon market and enable farmers to provide evidence needed for the government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive.

Auditing best practice in particular de-risking the business and efficiency improvements. Mandatory legislation coming into force in 2024 is accelerating progress towards Net Zero, but new members Aethr Associates are keen to demonstrate the other benefits that the reporting can offer.

Online markets for low carbon produce. Legislation around reducing carbon emissions in value chains is encouraging food businesses to pay a premium for low carbon produce. Agrasta is establishing an online platform that gives visibility of producers with good credentials to food and beverage companies looking to reach net-zero targets.

Predicting and forecasting – as ecosystems evolve innovation is multidimensional. The move to regen ag is also driving business process change in the agribusinesses that would traditionally provide inputs. Space-tech company Hyperplan, headquartered in France, is using satellite imagery ground truthed by its customers to provide objective information about crop performance and coverage to help inform new business models.

Overcoming resistance in pests. Many soils are rendered unusable for potatoes and other root vegetables due to the build up of nematodes resistant to inorganic pesticides. Members like Ecospray are developing plant protection products that are highly selective to a particular pest’s metabolic processes. It has been working with fellow members Earlham Institute and NIAB to develop a nematode deterrent based on garlic.

Supporting a move to industrial horticulture, it is a pivotal moment for undercover crops as high energy costs and shortage of skilled labour have forced many producers out of business. The current situation and ways forward have been reviewed by new members Camrosh, who are co-authors on a report that shows the potential for the sector to have a bright future, saying that the technologies needed to bring food security are already available

Indeed a good number of Agri-TechE members are developing solutions with Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) offering greater automation with its self-contained growth towers; Crystal Heart Salad creating plant plugs that can work with automated planters and Future Biogas offering renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. This is in addition to the work of long term members such as Lettus Grow.

Join the innovation ecosystem

Agri-TechE is an independent organisation funded and led by our members. We welcome industry veterans alongside new-to-ag companies, global conglomerates and family-run farms that together explore cutting-edge research to find innovations to support their businesses.

We offer flexible membership tiers to suit your individual needs. This includes brokered introductions, profile-raising initiatives, connections with international clusters, exclusive market opportunities, and strategic insights to assist business alignment with industry trends.

If you see a synergy with the members mentioned here or would like to discuss membership then do get in touch with Becky.

IGS growth towers offer self-contained environments
Hyperplan uses latest satellite imaging to improve prediction and forecasting of crop performance
Crystal Heart plants in production

Industrial Horticulture is at a crossroads – new report urges expansion not decline

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) within industrial-scale greenhouses could make the UK a significant exporter of horticultural produce within ten years, a review of the sector – published by Defra and produced by Camrosh Ltd and the Institute for Manufacturing Engage, University of Cambridge – has concluded.

The Foresight study, compared the relative gains, costs, feasibility, and scalability of current and future ‘industrial horticulture’, including greenhouses and vertical farms. It comes at a critical time for the sector.

CEA has huge potential to increase UK self-sufficiency. It produces 10 to 20 times the volume of food from the same land footprint as field-grown crops while using less than 10% of the water resources required for open field growing, and there is potential to further improve productivity.

The report proposes that the UK has both the climate and the renewable energy resources to be a major global player in low carbon CEA food production. This vision is supported by reports of a decline in field production in other geographies – for example, an EU report predicts Spanish tomato production will fall by 20% by 2030 – indicating that an expansion of domestic CEA would contribute to food security.

However, the sector runs almost entirely on natural gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) and has been badly hit over the past three years by the increase in fuel prices and by a shortage of labour. This has led to production falling to its lowest level in 30 years, with many producers scaling back out-of-season growing or shutting down permanently.

Dr Bernhard Strauss is Director of Research at technology strategy consultancy Camrosh. In collaboration with IfM Engage, University of Cambridge, he is a co-author on the report. He comments: “The report comes as the CEA sector is at a crossroads on the journey towards net-zero. The UK has a choice: to actively support and build a CEA sector, or risk losing ground and seeing the industry fall into decline.”

The researchers consulted a multi-disciplinary group of experts and stakeholders across the CEA sector, and the authoritative report provides an in-depth analysis of the current situation and the opportunities offered as well as the challenges of a number of alternative and renewable energy supply solutions. In addition, the role of various agri-tech innovations in the sector for reducing energy demand is discussed.

Violas in IGS Aeroponics (web banner)
Violas grown in IGS’ hydroponics

Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) is a vertical farming technology company that has recently announced a project in Dubai, which aims to replace 1% of the country’s fresh produce imports. Business Development Manager Andrew Haxton says this illustrates the potential of the sector, if CEA is located close to renewable energy production and it is possible to plug in with a private wire and not rely on the grid. “For the energy producer and the grower, this offers much greater price stability, the key is to scale-up.”

Although strongly emphasising the role of alternative energy sources in the transition to net-zero, the report warns that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ and advises that the design of an appropriate energy system is strongly dependent on the energy demand profile of the crop and the production facility.

The study uses ‘Marginal Abatement Cost Curves’ (MACC) analysis to present six alternative scenarios of the future to provide illustrations of the technology roadmap required to transform the sector towards net-zero by 2050.

The MACC visualisation technique enables policymakers and industry to make informed decisions about which technologies and measures are most cost-effective in terms of boosting productivity whilst reducing energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

The technical solutions that would enable CEA to transition to low carbon production are already available today, the authors observe, so the challenge is no longer technical but rather an economic and political issue, coupled with the need to achieve economies of scale.

Future Biogas is one of the largest producers of biomethane in the UK; Business Development Director Dr Becky Wheeler comments: “At a time of climate crisis, there has never been a more urgent need for cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary collaboration to decarbonise food production and increase food security. With the right economies of scale, policies and regulatory support, the AD industry could play a significant role in supporting the CEA sector.”

Pea shoots growing in the aeroponic vertical farm (web)
Pea shoots growing in the LettUs Grow aeroponic vertical farm

The report concludes that many energy efficiency measures – such as installing thermal screens, improving monitoring and control systems, and enhanced maintenance – require low investment and could significantly reduce energy consumption in the short term. However, to transition to a low energy, low carbon future requires joined-up government policy and incentives for long-term investment.
India Langley of LettUs Grow Ltd agrees: “We need a joined up national policy to make investment in renewable infrastructure easier and far more attractive.

“We often think about financial incentives, but an important part of this is planning policy levers around enabling that co-location. It is not uncommon for commercial growers to get planning permission for a new glasshouse but be unable to build because they can’t get planning permission for the solar farm on the field next door.

“There are imbalances in the planning sector that could be addressed to try and tie some of these co-located and valuable opportunities together so that they don’t just get stuck within the system.”


Gain economies of scale – efficiencies increase with larger facilities, particularly if co-located close to sources of renewable energy production or when investing in the latest high-tech greenhouse innovations. The UK currently only has 50 large growers with over ten hectares and a further 50 medium-to-large growers. Expanding the land area dedicated to CEA is recommended by independent experts.

Optimise energy usage – Next Generation Growing (NGG) is already the industry standard in the Netherlands, seeing the integration of control systems to maximise plant growth and yield while minimising heat and energy consumption.

Technologies including wireless sensors, vision systems, the Internet of Things, digital twins, AI, and others can provide real-time automated monitoring and continuous adjustment of temperature, humidity, CO2, air circulation, light, nutrient supply, and alerts for symptoms of fungal disease to optimise growing conditions and yields.

Equipment optimisation – the report observes that switching lighting to high efficiency LEDs will reduce energy consumption whilst enabling the potential to ‘tune’ the colour spectrum to maximise photosynthesis and other physiological functions, thereby boosting crop performance.

Geothermal energy
Geothermal energy in Iceland

Renewable energy sources – a number of alternatives are discussed in the report and the advantages and obstacles assessed. A conclusion is that of greatest value are integrated solutions using more than one energy source, where businesses can also generate their own renewables, or hot-wire from a co-located source. More extensive use of renewable electricity for heat pumps in combination with biogas from anaerobic digesters for heating could be another combination to help move forward on the path to net-zero. However, challenges are often not technical, but rather financial, regulatory, or political to get such approaches off the ground at the necessary scale.

Potential technologies include:

  • Agrivolatics – growing crops beneath transparent photovoltaic panels, thereby generating energy and food. However, solar power requires battery storage as the requirement is greatest during periods of low irradiation; therefore, the cost and maturity of battery technology is an obstacle at present.
  • Anaerobic digestion – decomposition of waste organic material or energy crops to create biomethane. This can be used to replace natural gas for CHP units and boilers and supply CO2 for plants. However, AD production needs skilled staff and economies of scale. Where co-location may not be possible, gas could be sleeved throughout the existing network.
  • Hydrogen – this is a complex proposition and viable only at scale once the required infrastructure and markets have become much more mature.
  • Heat recovery – transfer of thermal energy using a phase-change fluid or refrigerant gas. Offers matching of cooling/heating, for example to keep a packhouse cool while a greenhouse warm. However, bespoke solutions are often required so the costs for larger installations are high.
  • Geothermal – used to some extent in other European countries, such as Germany or Austria, after the Netherlands pioneering its use on a large industrial scale for the horticulture sector with an ambition to provide 65% of its CEA energy demands by 2050. It is a relatively mature technology, however the initiation costs are high, and operations would need to be coupled in most instances with other large power users to make it commercially viable

Consider diversification to increase profitability – there is a strongly growing market for high value medicinal plants, such as cannabis, and the plant-based production of vitamins and other active ingredients; however, these will not contribute to food security.

Precision breeding – gene editing technologies could be used to develop new crops that might thrive in cooler growing conditions, which would reduce energy consumption. Although using this technology to find the traits for commercial and environmental success can be a lengthy process, first successful field trials in the UK have already shown very promising results and its potential for the future.

Agri-TechE members embark on mini-mission to the Republic of Korea for Green & Agritech Asia 2023

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

“Small but powerful” is how the Korean agriculture system was described at the recent Green and Agritech Asia 2023 conference, held in Gwangju, Republic of Korea.

Agri-TechE members Vitabeam (headed up by CEO James Millchamp-Merrick) and Aponic International (led by Jason Hawkins-Row) joined the mini-mission to showcase UK technologies relevant to the Korean market.

A Big Prize

The potential of the Republic of Korea is huge. The country currently imports 75 % of its food, and while fruit, vegetables and rice are the key outputs of domestic agriculture, this is delivered by an ageing population of farmers, most managing less than a hectare of land each.

An additional challenge is air pollution – many of the plots are alongside busy roads and airborne contaminants from other countries are also a major issue, making controlled environment agriculture particularly attractive.

Green & Agritech Asia 2023
Green & Agritech Asia 2023

A strategic plan is underway in Korea to improve productivity by harnessing new tools of technology – such as Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing and use of “big data” – and applying technologies from smart cities into agriculture. With increasing ambition and significant infrastructure investment into research and glasshouse, there are big plans for growth.

Engaging with the Farmers

Yet, in a pattern we are seeing increasingly round the world, there was a lamentable absence of farmers, and much of the technology is being developed in isolation from these end-users. As we know and have seen, test-beds and mechanisms to de-risk farmer adoption of new practices are crucial, especially where there is a traditional mind-set suspicious of change.

The Smart Farm Innovation Valley is a 21ha site resulting from around $70m of investment aimed at supporting start-ups and educating farmers in the use of new technologies. Significant glasshouse real estate, a ‘big data’ centre and a strong focus on young growers is designed to attract new thinking into the industry.

Green & Agritech Asia 2023

Agri-TechE in South Korea

Part of Agri-TechE’s mandate is to help members develop their business – either in the UK or internationally. Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE accompanied the members to Korea and commented: “It was a pleasure to be joined by Jason and James representing Aponic International and Vitabeam respectively.

She continues: “It was an honour to give a keynote talk at the Green and Agritech Asia Conference and Exhibition alongside Mukul Varshney, Director of Corporate Affairs at John Deere.

“The grand opening ceremony was an impressive affair, with the Mayor of Gwangju and representatives from the Rural Development Administration of Jellanando Province. It was a pleasure to meet again our long-standing friend and colleague, Kyeong-Hwan Lee, Associate Professor at Chonnam National University.

“His vision for an AI Agri-Tech Convergence Industrialisation Valley is coming to life with a fully automated pilot test farm for digital agriculture, an R&D Centre and significant glasshouse real estate supported by agricultural research and extension services.

Opening Ceremony at Green & Agritech Asia 2023

“There was a warm welcome for technology developers and scientists looking to join the ecosystem. So, a good reception for our two Agri-TechE members – Jason Hawkins-Row of Aponic International and James Millichap-Merrick of Vitabeam.

Members takeaway

Highlights of the mission included demonstrations of vertical farming solutions, robotics and computer vision technologies, plus use of AI, machine learning and deep learning to give actionable insights about crop performance.

Jason (Aponic International) explained: “I wanted to go to experience first-hand the level of farming in Korea and feel the pinch points of food security and resilience, also to observe the state of play for the everyday farmer.

“Having spoken to government officials and farmers there seems to be a mismatch between them and I can envisage a wide application of the Aponic vertical aeroponic farming on small, medium and large scale to make the most of the limited farmable spaces available.

“There is also familiar friction from older generations who want tradition and younger farmers who want to try new, less labour-intensive methods. We will be offering an energy and water efficient, urban, peri-urban and rural food production enabling technology as a package to all farmers and officials we met there.

Belinda at Green & Agritech Asia 2023 4

James (Vitabeam) also commented: “With such a high volume of food imported by the Republic of Korea, we see it as vital that investment is enhanced to support the large domestic farming community, combined with the scientific communities to deploy the best growing solutions. 

“We could envision a revolution in their food production. Our opportunity is significant in helping them grow CEA crops and post-harvest pre-packaging technology to ensure healthier, clean and fresh produce production.

“It was an invaluable event made all the more enjoyable by such great attendees! We really wish to thank Belinda Clarke from Agri-TechE, Si Yoo from Digital Chosun and all members of the local government and Rural Development Administration of Jeollanam-do Province who made this trip possible.

Agri-TechE’s next International Initiative will take us to the plains of Saskatchewan, Canada (virtually) on Monday 25 September. Find out more about our global reach.

GrowPura increasing the productivity and profitability of vertical farming

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

GrowPura Limited has developed the world’s first automated, moving conveyor system for vertical farming that operates in a patented ‘Clean Room’ environment. The company will be discussing the benefits of the system in the 2023 Innovation Hub at the Royal Norfolk Show.

The GrowPura® technology maximises the use of space and reduces input costs. Plants are grown in a vertical hydroponic system with multilevel stacked trays. These move within a bio-hall and are continuously monitored to ensure each tray receives optimum light for growth.

Reducing inputs

As 95% of the water used is recycled it uses a fraction of the water required for field irrigated crops with no runoff.

All aspects of the environment – atmosphere, irrigation, level of lighting, humidity and temperature – can be calibrated to the crop to maximise production efficiency.

The system also uses less energy than conventional vertical farming systems. For example, it uses 50% less LED lighting and requires 50-75% less space. This results in significantly higher output compared to static hydroponic vertical farming methods.

CEA - Indoor farming - A clean room environment and regular monitored creates products with much longer shelf life and far better quality CREDIT Growpura

Clean Room environment

All operations – propagation, growing and packing – take place within the clean room environment which uses filtered air and integrated barrier controls to remove the need for pesticides or washing. This means that crops have a longer shelf life once harvested.

The GrowPura® technology improves the economics and reduces the environmental impact of vertical farming while improving the quality of food produced.

The patented technology is available for licensing and turnkey solutions for vertical farming companies.

More about GrowPura


GrowPura is appearing in the Innovation Hub at the 2023 Royal Norfolk Show.
Read more about the 2023 Innovation Hub >>

Innovation Hub 2023

From micro-herbs to menthol and morphine: how far will vertical farms go?

Agri-TechE Blog
Agri-TechE

Crops grown in large-scale vertical farm facilities are beginning to enter commercial food chains with the vertical farmingpromise of continuity and consistency of supply, reduced food miles and the need for fewer inputs.

But these benefits come at a price.

Tightly-managed, high-care growing environments are expensive to build and run, so these facilities need to grow high-margin produce – ideally in high volume – to generate the necessary returns on investment.

With ambitious expansion plans and increasing global acreage in many of these facilities, this month we are exploring the opportunity for vertical farms and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) to diversify into non-food crops.

Beyond baby-leaf salad

Innovative research spanning a range of crop species has demonstrated the feasibility of using vertical farming to produce field crops such as cereals, legumes, fruit and even seed potatoes.

However, while it might be possible to grow food crops in such systems, the question remains about the commercial reality of producing them at scale in such facilities. Are there untapped alternatives that are easier to grow and where the returns could be even higher?

Harnessing plant metabolism

crocuses

Plants naturally make a suite of chemicals that are unrelated to their nutritional properties but still hugely valuable to humans. Plant-derived drugs, for example, represent 5.5% of the global pharmaceutical industry, with their sales revenue over £18 billion.

Flavourings extracted from plants including saffron from crocuses, vanillin from orchids and essential oils from herbs such as evening primrose all command a price premium over their synthetic – or fake – counterparts.

With a move away from a dependence on petrochemicals, there is an increasing focus on using sustainable alternatives for speciality chemicals, such as artificial flavour and fragrance molecules, as well as intermediates in manufacturing processes. Many of these are difficult – or impossible – to make synthetically.

So, what better production system for these complex materials than from the plants themselves?

Biofactories for non-food

Some plant chemicals are unique to individual species that are difficult to grow in broadacre because of their precise growing needs, their vulnerability to pests, or a lack of suitable agronomy. But under the right – and consistent – growing conditions these plants can flourish.

Thanks to a number of state-of-the-art facilities across the world, vertical farming at scale is now a viable solution for the widespread commercial production of high value molecules in planta. The controlled environment ensures stringent growing conditions and accommodates high-care needs. With the added benefit of automation and robotics to increase efficiency and minimise contamination.

Generating these kinds of compounds in a controlled environment would maximise outputs and ensure consistency. This would overcome a major barrier to their outdoor production and comfort regulators about the quality of the resulting material. Moreover, VF allows for nuances in growing conditions, where small changes can alter – and improve – the nature of material produced.

Next steps

LETTUCE

Discussions between vertical growers and food retailers are underway, with bagged salad and herb producers competing with broadacre growers and importers – and potentially between themselves – for market share.

We think it’s time for serious discussions in the cosmetics industry, ingredient suppliers, perfumiers and specialist chemical companies, as well as in the pharmaceutical sector, to consider larger scale production of high value chemicals in a controlled environment.

There will undoubtedly always be a place for baby-leaf salad and micro-herbs in vertical farms, but plants are so much more than just food. We now have the technology to harness – and even enhance – this wealth of potential in a truly controlled way.

Members are invited to join our interactive BlogChat online session on 25th April 2-3pm, where we’ll be discussing this topic in more detail. Please contact info@agri-tech-e.co.uk if you’d like to join and we will send the meeting info.

Next-gen vertical farming, sensors and energy generation showcased to US Midwest State Legislators

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

Senators and Representatives from US Midwest state legislatures saw ‘next-generation’ vertical farm technology at GrowPura Limited and on-farm energy production in Fenland as part of a visit hosted by Agri-TechE along with the Department for International Trade (DIT) on 14th March 2023.

Midwestern Office initiate visit

The mission was initiated by the British Consulate-General, Chicago in partnership with the Council of State Governments Midwestern Office (CSG Midwest). Chicago Consul General Alan Gogbashian explained: “We want this visit to focus on showcasing the UK’s leadership in agriculture, agri-tech and the energy transition from fossil fuels, as these themes have special resonance for the Midwest.”

The delegation, which included State Senators and State Representatives from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, joined members of the Agri-TechE ecosystem for discussions and dinner at the historic Madingley Hall, just outside Cambridge.

Cutting-edge technologies

Growpura operates under automated, clean-room conditions

This was followed the next day by field visits, accompanied by DIT, to GrowPura Limited, developers of advanced vertical farm technology, and FC Palmer & Sons, a Fenland farm that has made a significant investment in sustainable energy production.

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, comments: “We are honoured to welcome this high-level delegation to showcase some of the great innovation in our ecosystem, from energy generation on-farm to alternative approaches to food production, and the use of sensors for precision agriculture. These are common themes which unite agriculture across the globe and they require appropriate regulation to deliver the intended impact. We are looking forward to seeing how the legislators in the US are approaching these cutting-edge technologies and enabling them to be used across these states.”

Optimising space and reducing inputs

GrowPura Limited has developed the world’s first automated, moving conveyor system for vertical farming that operates in a patented ‘Clean Room’ environment.

The GrowPura® technology aims to maximise use of space and reduce input costs. Plants receive the optimum light for growth and as 95% of the water used is recycled, it uses a fraction of the water required for field irrigated crops with no runoff. GrowPura aims to reduce the environmental impact of vertical farming while improving the quality of food produced and its economic benefits.

Jeremy McNamara, Chief Commercial Officer for GrowPura, comments that vertical farming is complementary to field and undercover cropping but has particular benefits for year-round growing of leafy greens, herbs and some berries. “Vertical farming has an important role in food security and could, with enough investment, provide a sustainable source of locally grown produce direct to the market. This would help alleviate many of the issues we’ve seen recently in the supply-chain.”

The other technology companies attending the dinner included: Delta-T Devices, specialists in precise real-time environmental measurement; Sencrop, developer of networked weather stations; Smartbell, developers of an ‘internet of cows’ for monitoring livestock; and NIAB, the centre for plant research, crop evaluation and agronomy.

 

US Midwest State Legislators visit UK

The attendees of the dinner at Madingley Hall

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

Innovate UK Funding For Energy Efficient Aeroponic Farming Systems

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. Aponic International has secured Innovate UK funding to commercialise its super efficient aeroponic farming system developed with help from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Fund. The vertical farming market has been slowed by high capital outlay and high energy costs. Aponic International has developed a design that dramatically cuts manufacturing and energy costs. Drawing on 9 years of commercial experience in the vertical farming market they have designed a new system that can be run from just two solar panels and a pair of deep cycle batteries. “We originally developed the system so that our farms could be run off grid, anywhere in the world and in the age of net zero, this thinking is paying dividends.”

We have a turnkey system that converts unused barn space and commercial units into controlled environment farms that grow abundant produce 365 days a year and creating full time jobs rather than seasonal labour. Taking the experience gained over a decade of developing this technology, we know that with our new design, we can improve the power usage, workflow and scalability of aeroponic growing by redesigning the aeroponic food factory system to be more labour and energy efficient and more easily rolled out at large commercial scale. The new design has all of the advantages that our previous designs excelled with, and still benefits from the energy and space efficient vertical tower design, but it comes in a package that creates great ROI for large commercial food production operations.

We obtained funding to develop the new design prototypes and run trials over lockdown. These proved successful and we are now attracting investors to create commercial scale production facilities and equipment. CEO Jason Hawkins-Row said “The Aponic International Food Factories are perfectly placed to plug the gaps in todays food production market by enabling ultra-local food production 365 days a year using 95% less water, renewable energy and 60% less nutrient to produce above organic quality, fresh produce in urban and rural farms.”

The Innovate UK funding will be used to create the tooling and processes to manufacture this new design which will be available in the New Year. Details will be released on our web site www.aponic.co.uk.

In a net zero environment, we need to continually move towards clean, efficient ways to meet the demands for high quality, nutritious food. Sustainable food only works if there is a sustainable business model and that is why we have made every effort to get an efficient product at the right price to the right people.

Light Science Technologies announces successful first phase completion of Zenith Nurseries contract

Member News
Agri-TechE

Milestone signals UKRI grant increase

AgriTech firm Light Science Technologies Ltd (LST) has announced the first phase completion of its project with Zenith Nurseries to develop advanceGROW, an ‘industry first’ cloche lighting and sensor technology system for the CEA market.

The first milestone, known as Gateway 1, which involved developing and demonstrating the viability of the system, is now complete, resulting in revenue of £51,000 for the company.

LST announced the commencement of the contracted project, with UK grower Zenith Nurseries Ltd aim of reducing the need for import substitution by extending the harvest window. Potentially worth up to £13.84 million, advanceGROW is the first retrofittable, semi-automated, all-in-one lighting and sensor solution, providing year-round harvests for growers across multiple plant varieties in polytunnel and glasshouse environments.

The project is broken into four gateways which are specified to prototype, develop, and commercialise the offering. Following the success of Gateway 1, Zenith has redefined its near-term priorities in response to ongoing energy and import conditions, and to increase focus on the lighting element of the rolling cloche. This will place further emphasis on growing more indoors, mitigating the impact of unpredictable and extreme weather conditions and climate change, with a view to increasing yields and extending the growing season.

This has resulted in the project gateways being re-ordered, bringing the first phase of Gateway 4 forward. This phase is now set to begin before Gateways 2 and 3 in the first half of 2023, with potential revenues of around £1.9 million, and will see the incorporation of the rolling cloche device within new polytunnels. LST is also exploring new potential revenue generating additions to advanceGROW in order to make the units more self-sufficient in terms of energy usage, using solar power and batteries.

The overall time scale and potential contract value of £13.84 million remains unchanged.

LST will now spearhead the development of the harvesting elements alongside specialist contractors, which means that the value of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) grant it received has increased to £621,077 for this project.  Awarded in February this year, the grant was awarded by UKRI, the UK’s innovation agency, as part of its Farming Initiative Pathway (FIP) consortium for more sustainable and efficient plant growth in the UK agricultural sector.

Simon Deacon, CEO and founder of Light Science Technologies, said: “We are delighted with the progress made on the project and the agility of our relationship with Zenith Nurseries, which has allowed a reordering of workflow to bring forward part of Gateway 4.

“The cloche lighting and sensor technology solution is as exciting as it is innovative. With applications across multiple plant varieties, we believe there will be significant demand for this solution as food security becomes progressively more crucial in a changing world.

“Importantly, given the numerous issues associated with climate change, which have and will severely impact growing conditions, our solutions enable growers to produce crops more locally, all year round.”

This comes after Light Science Technologies Holdings plc (LSTH), the holding company of LST, reported in its third-quarter trading statement that the recent series of projects under LST could bring in potential revenue worth £3m.

LettUs Grow with sound – ultrasonic aeroponics increase growth rate

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

By growing plants with ultrasonics and water instead of soil, LettUs Grow has doubled growth rates with its ultrasonic aeroponics when compared to conventional hydroponic systems.

Ultrasonic technology is harnessed to create high-frequency sound waves that shake water until it disperses into lots of tiny droplets, like a mist. This mist can be distributed and controlled to provide the exact amount of water and nutrients to plant roots depending on their needs and stage of growth.

Irrigating plants with mist rather than liquid water is not new – the practice is called aeroponics. Instead of growing in soil, plant roots are suspended in air – this mimics the air pockets found in a healthy soil system, boosts access to oxygen, and results in much faster growth of the plant.

This growing method allows plant roots to grow healthier and faster than in hydroponics, which is the most common irrigation system used in greenhouses and vertical farms today. In-house trials at LettUs Grow have shown that this ultrasonic method also uses much less water.

Charlie Guy, co-founder & CEO of LettUs Grow says: “By harnessing our unique ultrasonic technology, we can offer growers the ability to grow consistent, healthy and high-quality produce with far less impact on our natural environment.”

Ultrasonic aeroponics

Aeroponics more commonly uses nozzles to generate mist. However, technical complexities and issues with maintenance have prevented aeroponics being successful in larger scale agricultural applications such as greenhouses. A key component of ultrasonic aeroponics is the use of an atomiser, the device which transforms liquid into mist. This removes the need for nozzles, therefore increasing the viability of using aeroponics in much larger, commercial growing spaces, where its impact is maximized:

Lilly Manzoni, Head of Research & Development at LettUs Grow. “This is the first atomiser that has been specifically designed for aeroponic agriculture. This means we’ve developed them to be durable and operationally efficient, with the environment and the grower in mind.”

Aeroponics
Aeroponics

As well as being designed to benefit commercial agriculture, aeroponics is also ideal for research applications. This is because the nature of the mist, rather than water, and access to the roots, means it’s possible to have a very precise high-level of control over plants in the system.

“This means that there are so many different potential applications of harnessing this technology, such as in forestry, biomass production and other projects that could improve and protect natural ecosystems.”

More about LettUs Grow

LettUs Grow with sound – ultrasonic aeroponics increase growth rate

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

By growing plants with ultrasonics and water instead of soil, LettUs Grow has doubled growth rates with its ultrasonic aeroponics when compared to conventional hydroponic systems.

Ultrasonic technology is harnessed to create high-frequency sound waves that shake water until it disperses into lots of tiny droplets, like a mist. This mist can be distributed and controlled to provide the exact amount of water and nutrients to plant roots depending on their needs and stage of growth.

Irrigating plants with mist rather than liquid water is not new – the practice is called aeroponics. Instead of growing in soil, plant roots are suspended in air – this mimics the air pockets found in a healthy soil system, boosts access to oxygen, and results in much faster growth of the plant.

This growing method allows plant roots to grow healthier and faster than in hydroponics, which is the most common irrigation system used in greenhouses and vertical farms today. In-house trials at LettUs Grow have shown that this ultrasonic method also uses much less water.

Charlie Guy, co-founder & CEO of LettUs Grow says: “By harnessing our unique ultrasonic technology, we can offer growers the ability to grow consistent, healthy and high-quality produce with far less impact on our natural environment.”

Ultrasonic aeroponics

Aeroponics more commonly uses nozzles to generate mist. However, technical complexities and issues with maintenance have prevented aeroponics being successful in larger scale agricultural applications such as greenhouses. A key component of ultrasonic aeroponics is the use of an atomiser, the device which transforms liquid into mist. This removes the need for nozzles, therefore increasing the viability of using aeroponics in much larger, commercial growing spaces, where its impact is maximized:

Lilly Manzoni, Head of Research & Development at LettUs Grow. “This is the first atomiser that has been specifically designed for aeroponic agriculture. This means we’ve developed them to be durable and operationally efficient, with the environment and the grower in mind.”

Aeroponics
Aeroponics

As well as being designed to benefit commercial agriculture, aeroponics is also ideal for research applications. This is because the nature of the mist, rather than water, and access to the roots, means it’s possible to have a very precise high-level of control over plants in the system.

“This means that there are so many different potential applications of harnessing this technology, such as in forestry, biomass production and other projects that could improve and protect natural ecosystems.”

More about LettUs Grow

Controlled Environment Agriculture – from glasshouse to vertical farm

Topic Overview
Out of House

Is Controlled Environment Agriculture viable?

“We should not consider greenhouses and vertical farms as two diametrically opposed systems. Instead, they should be seen as on a gradient,” says Luuk Graamans, who is currently working as a researcher at Wageningen University & Research (WUR), investigating the feasibility of Controlled Environment Agriculture as a new production system.

“Greenhouses can incorporate the technologies from vertical farms to increase climate control and to enhance their performance under specific climates. The vertical farm is the pinnacle of climate control and may serve situations where such control is warranted, or where interaction with the exterior climate is undesirable.”

WUR and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) have joined forces to investigate the feasibility of integrating vertical farming as a new production system within the urban energy network.

Luuk’s past research has shown that the effectiveness of Controlled Environment (CE) agriculture depends on a complex interaction between the production method, systems engineering, and the yield and costs of energy, water and CO2.

He says:

“Compared to more traditional food production systems, plant factories are able to achieve higher efficiencies for land area, water and CO2, but generally not for electricity.

“Greenhouses are generally more electricity efficient because of the freely available solar energy. Only in situations with little light and significant energy loss, or perhaps with excessive heat gain across the façade, may a vertical farm come out ahead.

“The important question is which resources you deem (in)valuable, and this is closely related to the local climate, context and market.”

Key opportunities for Controlled Environment Agriculture

Luuk’s research has shown vertical farming may prove to be an effective production system where:

  • energy loss across the greenhouse façade would outweigh the beneficial energy gain from sunlight, for example in cold climates with little sunlight.
  • resources like water, land or CO2 are scarce, for example in arid or densely populated areas.
  • there is a need to strengthen local food production independent of exterior climate, such as areas prone to extreme climate events or where there is dependency on imports.
  • there is potential to integrate the vertical farm into the energy network and provide additional services. For example, densely populated areas that rely on (intermittent) renewable energy sources.
  • energy loss across the greenhouse façade would outweigh the beneficial energy gain from sunlight, for example in cold climates with little sunlight.
  • resources like water, land or CO2 are scarce, for example in arid or densely populated areas.
  • there is a need to strengthen local food production independent of exterior climate, such as areas prone to extreme climate events or where there is dependency on imports.
  • there is potential to integrate the vertical farm into the energy network and provide additional services. For example, densely populated areas that rely on (intermittent) renewable energy sources.

Next steps for Controlled Environment Agriculture

Luuk continues:

“One of the biggest challenges on the production side will be to learn how to properly wield the technology. Although we have a system in which we can control most, if not all, variables of the production climate, at the moment the link between these variables, direct crop responses and crop growth is only understood superficially.

“Advanced imaging and sensor techniques will be able to track the actual plant status in real-time and increase our understanding of these processes. Only then can we truly formulate an optimal growing strategy and take advantage of the extensive climate control that vertical farming offers.

“On the technical side, an important challenge will be optimising the energy use of food production in Controlled Environment Agriculture and to integrate it in the broader energy system. The infrastructure of modern cities and countries is becoming increasingly complex and integrated. Food production should not remain independent but should benefit from the system as a whole.”

Wageningen UR has built new research facilities for vertical farming and crop research in Bleiswijk. These facilities will be used as a tool to study crop response, breeding, pollination and health. The system is designed to continuously track the water, CO2 and energy balance of the crop.

Square Mile Farms bring vertical farms into the workplace by integrating farm-walls, farm-displays and other edible green spaces

Autonomous growing environments or urban farms?

There are many business models:

Large scale production: Nick Bateman, of Growpura, creators of automated hydroponic bio-halls, comments that the ultimate controlled environment would be a fully automated environment.

“The other upside of automation is allowing the system to run in a clean-room environment, monitored entirely by sensors and without sources of contamination brought in by humans. Automation creates a fresher, more natural product free of pesticides, and eliminates the need for a washing process.”

Social innovation: Johnathan Ransom’s Square Mile Farms started with the concept of ‘flat pack farms’ for urban areas and now, through its Office Farmingmodel, is bringing vertical, urban farms to workplaces of big businesses to help them achieve their sustainability and employee well-being goals.

Production in arid areas: Michael Ruggier is the CEO of Airponix, which has developed a smart, sustainable and soilless system that is designed to support the growth of a broad range of food and niche crops with particular benefits where water is scarce. He explains: “In our solution roots are exposed to a nutrient rich fog which is more effective way of delivering the nutrients than any other system such as current aeroponics which spray the roots, or hydroponics which submerges them. It does not require an expensive pumping system or for the water to be changed, so in comparison to hydroponics we use a fraction of the water and can provide double the yield.”

To find out more about other technologies being developed for CEA in the Agri-TechE environment click here.

Nutrient mists enable production where water is scarce

Potential to support diversification

Lindsay Hargreaves, former MD of fresh produce growers Frederick Hiam, says value, freshness and seasonality all determine which crops are suitable for CE production in the UK:

“Being able to grow more exotic crops in East Anglia close to distribution centres would reduce the food miles. Additionally, there are opportunities to grow crops for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and vaccines within a controlled environment. And then there is seasonality – thirty years ago, the berry market in the UK had a short growing season; now strawberries are a long season as well as high value crop, not just a luxury available for a few weeks. Bringing new crops indoors could open up big markets for UK growers.”

What does the future hold?

An indoor farmer, a technologist and a conventional fresh produce grower give their views on what to expect over the coming years.

Potential to improve the supply chain

Kate Hofman, CEO, GrowUp

“Having been in the business of commercial controlled environment salad production since 2012, starting off with shipping container aquaponics before scaling up, Kate is in an excellent position to comment on the challenges of breaking into the UK leafy green supply chain.

“It will be really interesting to see how the food service world recovers after lockdown – the rough numbers are that supermarket trade was up at least 11% in the last year – so retail still looks like a really good direction to go in. If we want to have an impact on the food system in the UK and change it for the better, we’re committed to partnering with those big retailers to help them deliver on their sustainability and values-driven goals.

“We see the value in opening dialogues with all sectors of the industry, from broadacre to vertical, in terms of research and best practise – there are opportunities for collaboration around things like sustainability and food safety. And there is some overlap between these modes of production – I know several projects where conventional growers have looked into applying controlled environment technology to what they’re doing.

“But our focus is very much as a salad grower that grows a fantastic product that everyone will want to buy. And we’re focussed on bringing down the cost of sustainable food, which means doing it at a big enough scale to gain the economies of production that are needed to be able to sell at everyday prices.”

Container farms offer experiential food experiences

Jack Farmer, CSO, LettUs GrowFeeding foodbanks in Bristol with local produce, whilst developing an automation and control software for vertical farms, LettUs Grow is now pioneering a new concept in farming with its Drop & GrowTM growing units.

“This year is looking really exciting, regardless of what happens with the pandemic – supermarkets are investing to ensure a sustainable source of food production in the UK, which is what CEA provides. We’re also seeing a growth in ‘experiential’ food and retail, like microbreweries, and that’s also where we see our Drop & Grow container farm fitting in.

“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. We expect it 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.

“Everyone in the vertical farming space is going to hit a crossroads, because vertical farming, with its focus on higher value and higher density crops, is effectively a subset of the broader horticultural sector. All the players in the vertical farming space are facing a choice – to scale vertically, and double down and try to capture as much value in that specific space through vertical integration, or to diversify, and take their technology expertise broader. ”

Controlled Environment Agriculture vs outdoor field crops?

James Green is Director of Agriculture at G’s, one of Europe’s leading fresh produce growers. He explains:

“There’s a spectrum from outdoor grown field crop, which is what G’s does, through to various polytunnel/greenhouse set-ups, all the way to vertical farming under fully artificial lighting. And there’s a balance in all of these systems between energy costs for lighting, energy costs for cooling, costs of nutrient supply, and then transportation and the supply and demand.”

G’s, which grows about 10,000 hectares of outdoor salads in the UK and Spain, is maintaining a watching brief on the area.

“For commercial production and the finished goods, we still see the economics of CEA as challenging. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t change as technologies, such as solar panels, become more effective and cheaper.

“I think a blended approach, where you’re getting as much benefit as you can from nature but you’re supplementing it and controlling the growth conditions, is what we are aiming for, rather than the fully artificially lit ‘vertical farming’.

“In the short term we see potential for indoor farming to enhance our plant propagation, so that – by using enhanced light or aeroponics technologies – we can get ‘better’ plants that are more uniform or less disease prone for planting outdoors.

“At the end of the day, sunshine is pretty cheap and it comes up every day… but the question is, which production model will work for us in the future?”

Kate Hofman, GrowUp Farms
Grow Up Farms
Jack Farmer, LettUs Grow
James Green, G’s

Briefing last modified March 2022.