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Are algae the fresh and locally grown greenhouse crop of the future?

Algae have the potential to become a cash crop that can provide commercial greenhouse and controlled environment growers with a stable income stream, year round. According to Robert Henrikson, a pioneer in large scale commercial algae production, Spirulina algae is a crop that commercial growers could consider adding to their greenhouse or vertical farm. "I believe greenhouse growers will be the next to incorporate algae microfarms, seeking to diversify into new products with greater income potential."

Henrikson's company Smart Microfarms is currently negotiating production and marketing joint-ventures with commercial greenhouse companies in California to set up spirulina microfarms and deliver spirulina farm-to-table, direct to consumer, and direct to retail.  According to Henrikson, Spirulina farming can offer a higher income stream per greenhouse area, good ROI and payback of initial investment within 2-3 years. He explains that Algae can be a great additional crop for vertical farming as well in order to create a better business model.

"Vertical farming is a good initiative, it is sexy, looks exiting and supplies locally grown product direct to the market. Yet, it is a costly way of growing and may not always create the revenues to cover the cost of going vertical. Adding a spirulina cultivation inside a small portion of an existing urban farm or commercial greenhouse farm can change this and add higher income to become more successful.

Spirulina is a high-value food supplement, sold in health food stores for over 30 years, as dried powder, in tablets and capsules.  Containing the unique phycocyanin (‘algae-blue’) known for strengthening the immune system, beneficial flora and healing response, and for detoxification, anti-oxidant and anti-ageing properties.
Now with local cultivation, spirulina  can be enjoyed in a new way- fresh or fresh frozen –beautiful dark blue-green with almost no taste at all. Customers can melt and blend frozen cubes into juices for green drinks and mix fresh spirulina  into dishes and recipes like dips, spreads and hummus. Or sprinkle tasty low-temperature dried spirulina on salads and soups.

Spirulina can be grown successfully in ponds by recreating its natural environment of high pH, alkaline and saline water. Spirulina can also be harvested and used as a supplement for growing fish and aquatic organisms within an integrated aquaponics system.

Spirulina ponds in a greenhouse in Olympia, Washington State USA. Spirulina pond systems can fit within larger commercial greenhouses with greens, vegetables, herbs and aquaponic systems.

Currently Smart Microfarms is focused developing business opportunities in the U.S and Canada. However, Henrikson believes this business model is applicable almost anywhere in the world. He hopes to bring microalgae farming to greenhouse and controlled environment growers . "We can design and install practical, affordable and scalable spirulina microfarm turnkey systems, including ponds, circulation, harvesting, processing, freezing and dehydration, products, laboratory. Variations of these microfarms have been deployed and tested. With greenhouse infrastructure in place, growers could be in operation within 6 weeks."

Data and visual displays on a Smart Microfarms monitoring control panel, so remote experts can guide local operators.

Henrikson's company can also offer innovative web-based remote sensing and monitoring systems to provide ongoing assistance to local operations for successful algae cultivation. "Small operations cannot afford an on-site experienced algae scientist to maintain successful and continuous algae cultures. Real-time web based reporting allows remote experts to guide local operators, reducing culture crashes and downtime. This system has been tested for the past two years in several locations and we are extending its capabilities."

Fresh harvest and fresh frozen spirulina blended in fresh green superfood juice drinks

Packaged fresh frozen and low temperature dried spirulina products.

But Smart Microfarms can also help to distribute ‘locally grown’ algae food and supplement products to the local and regional market. "With years of experience developing products, sales and marketing, including connections within the natural foods industry, we can provide an umbrella brand for aggregating the production of small local producers of quality spirulina. We bring to market branded and packaged nutraceuticals and food products sold direct to consumers, online, direct to natural food retail outlets, juice bars and restaurants. Smart Microfarms will source product from its own algae microfarms, other quality algae farms with unique products, and facilitate and develop new farms in its network with technical and marketing expertise, ensuring superior product quality."

For more information:
Robert Henrikson

Publication date: 5/14/2015
Author: Boy de Nijs



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