Crop revolution

Only way is up for Scottish firm planning ‘vertical farms’

Basil crop at one of the vertical sites

A Scottish start-up plans to build dozens of indoor ‘vertical farms’ across the UK, capable of growing up to five times the volume of vegetables as a traditional farm.

Edinburgh-based Shockingly Fresh has launched a crowdfunding campaign to develop five sites countrywide, using special hydroponic towers to grow multiple crop cycles.

The firm believes the increased yields from its farms will help British growers boost crop production and reduce the UK’s reliance on costly off-season imports from the EU. The enclosed environment will also mean using fewer pesticides and the production of cleaner crops.

The rights to one site in Scotland and four in England have already been secured, covering a total of 50 hectares. A site in Worcestershire is awaiting full planning consent and there are talks about a project in Oman.

Vertical farming is an idea which has already taken root. In June Ocado invested £17 million in the sector, and now Marks & Spencer is growing premium vertical greens on-site at some of its flagship London stores. 

Bloomberg reports that the market will increase 12% annually and be worth $16 billion globally by 2025.  

Shockingly Fresh has teamed up with technology provider Saturn Bioponics and specialist salad growers ValeFresco to roll out its plans.

Over the last three years ValeFresco and Saturn have grown vertical crops of pak choi, lettuce and herbs for a range of customers.

Garth Bryans, COO at Shockingly Fresh, said: “We selected Saturn’s technology because their set-up requires far less up-front capital than a fully-enclosed vertical farm, yet delivers most of the benefits which are already driving the high demand for hydroponically-produced crops. This makes it much easier to get projects off the ground.

The crops are cleaner, the season is longer, there is less disease and pest risk and they are easy to harvest.

– Alex Fisher, Saturn Bioponics

“A fully enclosed farm can achieve a higher annual yield, but when you add in additional lighting and heating costs as well as the high capex, their typical costs per kg are higher than a naturally lit set up can achieve.

“We have identified a significant market – particularly around the early and late season ‘shoulder months’ – which is currently filled by imported crops from Europe. We believe our sites will enable British growers to compete on a level field.”

Saturn Bioponics founder and CEO Alex Fisher, says: “With pak choi we saw a three to four-fold increase in yields per crop cycle, with a third more cycles per year, giving an overall five-fold increase in annual yield.

“The crops are cleaner, the season is longer, there is less disease and pest risk and they are easy to harvest.

“Consumers are well-accustomed to strawberries grown under cover and this is a natural next step.”

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