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Next Gen Farms

Vertically Challenged

Author Charlie Yorke |

Some of the statistics about the potential productivity of vertical farming are jaw-dropping.

Take Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) Invergowrie-based vertical farm demonstration facility, for instance.

Last month I visited IGS’s complex to record an episode of our ‘Ahead of the Field’ podcast. Based at the James Hutton Institute on the outskirts of Dundee showcases vertical farming technology that’s designed to enable the efficient production of indoor crops.

It’s the kind of set-up that could be established pretty much anywhere in the world.

An IGS tower with a footprint of 40 sq m is capable of growing up to 20 tonnes per annum. That means that, depending on the crop, a vertical farm could give an outdoor plot measuring between 1-2 hectares a run for its money.

(Or, put another way, a plot that’s the size of one-quarter of a typical football pitch could produce a harvest that’s equivalent to that achieved on an entire pitch outdoors.)

Of course the reason for that potential productivity is the additional dimension of height. IGS’s demonstration facility comprises four vertical towers – each standing at about 10m tall – and with a racking system that reaches a height of 9m on which trays of crop can be stored.

Each stacked layer is illuminated by LED lights and the hydroponics system feeds the crop at the base of the tray. An app can control the whole environment and send updates to farmers to ensure they create the ideal conditions for crops to thrive all year round.

It’s no problem to take a closer look at a tray if you want to. Software instructs a lift to extract the required tray from its rack and deliver it to you at the base of the tower.

In fact, one of the features of IGS’s platform is the ability for farmers to view a time lapse or array of images showing the growth of their crops on their phones at anytime. Features like this raise the prospect of farmers no longer having to be physically present to check the progress of their crops.

IGS has developed vertical farming solutions that are configured for farmers, entrepreneurs, governments, food producers and customer facing businesses.

And, despite giving the appearance of being diverse and distinct groups, their application of vertical farming techniques shares a common characteristic – the need to be able grow and harvest crops within a very small footprint.

What’s more ,they want to achieve it in an environment which can be fully controlled to either produce meet demand for high quality food, or to test and experiment with new methods of breeding and developing flavours.

With producers expected to meet ever more exacting standards of consistency, plus ensuring the integrity and reliability of the daily supply of produce needed to fill supermarket shelves and the larders of high-end restaurants, vertical farming’s capacity to offer a source of produce – often right on the doorsteps of customer in the heart of cities – makes it an emerging technology to keep an eye on.