G’s Fresh produces lettuce and other salad crops to meet the highly variable consumer demand for high quality, fresh produce. Ben Barnes is investigating how controlled environment agriculture can support the business.
Two big questions
The organisation has a large standard greenhouse facility that is used to propagate seedlings for planting out into the field. The project is looking at two big questions: Can we increase the efficiency of the propagation facility in terms of getting a more homogenous crop? Is it feasible to produce baby leaf crops during the winter at an affordable price point?
- Smart Prop is looking at increasing growth and making stronger plants so they transplant better back into the field
- Winter Grow is a pre-commercial trial into wintertime growing.
Ben explains: “I’m going to be talking at the Agri-Tech East event about the commercial journey in terms of the go and no-go decision-making process and what the key things are that we need to learn in order to be able to make those kind of investment decisions. “Smart Prop is a KTP, a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, partly paid for by Innovate UK and partly by G’s, in collaboration with Harper Adams University. “G’s supply baby leaf crops all year round, with much of the winter supply grown in Spain and Italy. In summertime we produce a huge amount of outdoor salad crop, particularly lettuces and celery.
Smart Prop is looking at how we can increase the long-term viability and profitability of both of those parts of the business. “One element of this is the development of ‘lighting recipes’ to enhance plant growth characteristics. We’ve got multi-spectrum LED lights, so we can turn up the different amounts of red, blue, green and white, and even far red light. These are fairly expensive, so once we have worked out what works best we can buy fixed spectrum lights which are a tenth of the cost.
Collaboration with Growing Underground
“G’s has a relationship in Growing Underground based in Clapham, London. Although we are not directly connected, Greg, their grower, and myself are collaborating for our mutual benefit. They do supply quite a bit of produce to clients and chefs as well as some of the premium retailers.”
“In terms of supply and distribution it may actually makes more sense to have production closer to a distribution centre rather than within an urban centre, but we haven’t got that far yet.
“Within our project we have a growtainer, which is a basic hydroponic system inside a shipping container. To bring this up to scientific experimental specs we asked Cambridge HOK to refurbish it and put in new systems that are easier to use and more reliable. This is based at the Second Willow, our nursery site.
“I’ve actually just finished harvesting our first trial, a media trial; we’re testing all the different growing media and I’m going to process those results to see what comes out on top. There are so many variables!
“We’re trying to optimise those variables. You think LED’s are very efficient, but they still generate a heck of a lot of heat when you’ve got them essentially turned up to full. It is more about keeping the space cool, and the plants obviously are transpirating so we’ve got dehumidifiers in there sucking the moisture out of the air.
“Another option would be to take out heat and put it into the greenhouse, which would be a cost-saving. “Actually one of the biggest problems with the vertical farming concept is this interaction between moisture and temperature. You’ve got the two factors constantly fighting against each other and that ends up sucking huge amounts of energy if you’re not careful.”
Ben will be talking about his trials and the economic case for controlled environment agriculture ‘Bringing The Outside In – Innovating for Controlled Environment Agriculture’ taking place on 19th March from 10.00 – 16.00 at Rothamsted Research. It will look at the different growing systems, emerging technologies, the challenges of implementing a system and the logistics involved with integrating a controlled environment agriculture into the food value chain.