Vertical farming systems help growers control conditions. But one company is taking it up a gear, using computer calculations and spectrums of light to manipulate crops.
As a machinery designer working on lifts and cranes, agriculture wasn’t something David Scott had thought much about.
That was until he met a farmer called Henry, who was trying to develop an indoor farming system.
“He was a traditional farmer with big ideas,” remembers David.
“He had a small scale LED set-up and was supplying Michelin-starred restaurants with micro vegetables.
He knew what he had wasn’t scalable, but he had a vision for the future if the tech could be made more affordable.”
Fast forward six years and David’s company, Intelligent Growth Solutions, has created a vertical farming system that is cheaper, and easily scaleable, so it can grow as a user’s market and profits do.
The units are split into towers, a bit like ‘vending machines’ he describes, with trays for the crops layered one on top of the other.
Expansion means just adding another tower.“My gut is it may be in a regional, co-op form.”
IGS is talking to potential customers in the UK, US and Singapore.
Crop inspections, using sampling and cameras with image recognition, are automated, as is harvest.
Where Intelligent Growth Solutions also differs though, is in the way it controls and manipulates variables to create marketable crops.
Using computer algorithms, a wide range of variables - including spectrums of light; water acidity, pH, nutrient mix; and air temperature - can be programmed into the system to alter the taste, nutritional value, and look of the crop.
The central unit is based at the James Hutton Institute, where scientists are experimenting with variables.
But the company also allows customers to do this, so they can develop their own unique crops and test the market with their product before investing.
Phone apps allow growers to remote check crops. One variable being experimented with is spectrums of light and how pulses of light might trigger chemical reactions in plants.
Also, since plants don’t need all spectrums of light all the time, some are turned off when not needed, reducing energy consumption by 10-50 per cent.
Data and findings are continuously fed back into IGS’s database, so the system automatically learns from new discoveries.
Knowledge is shared with growers. “The machine is starting to advise IGS what changes create a certain output based on data collected,” says David.
“The next step is to make it fully autonomous [so you can ask the system to adjust variables to create the crop traits you want].”
Changing a plant’s traits might take three to four months for crops such as basil, but up to two years for others.
Some farmers may choose to only tweak 10 per cent of their crops at a time, to minimise risk.
“There are a lot of farmers with incredible wisdom. Their willingness to accept this [technology] has been phenomenal. We are controlling the weather, so they now have a process, not a gamble.”
Benefits include being able to repeatedly produce a consistent crop, minimising food waste.
The technology also reduces water consumption and land degradation, and there is no need for pesticides, fungicides or biocides.
“In the future, I think we’ll have large [vertical farming] units strategically placed around the world close to points of consumption,” he says.
Finalists will be invited to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges at Farm491, Cirencester, on November 21, 2019.
For more information, visit AgInnovationDen.com