Under normal circumstances, participants in the Vertical Farming World Congress, organized by Zenith Global, would have been able to visit some vertical farming sites, see the lights, sample some produce, talk to the farm managers. With the global pandemic still raging, however, the organizers decided to take the event online. As part of that move into the virtual domain, participants were able to 'visit' some vertical farms from the comfort of their own home.
Aerofarms in the United States, Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) in the United Kingdom, Root AI (United States), Uns Farms from the United Arab Emirates and YesHealth Group in Taiwan all opened their doors to virtual visitors, by means of videos showcasing what their operations are all about.
The presentation program was then kicked off by Richard Hall, Chairman of Zenith Global, who introduced the first speaker: Ellis Janssen, Global Director City Farming at Signify. The Dutch lighting supplier has put increasing attention on developing products for vertical and indoor farming in recent years. According to Ellis, while lighting is crucial to photosynthesis, it's only part of the puzzle: "It's a combination of factors that makes a vertical farm successful or not - the sum of all elements should add up to more."
Educating vertical farmers
Next up, Wythe Marschall introduced the FarmTech Society (FTS). As Education Committee Chair, he focuses on education and workforce development, pointing out that there are lots of opportunities there in the industry.
"In the US, there are not that many places to go for training, unlike in Northern Europe or Japan for instance," Wythe noted. "We look to work with educational institutions and members, and based on what industry members want, we offer courses with industry credentials, skills that are vetted by the academic institutions and industry." To this end, a CEA training and education consortium has been formed by the FTS.
The mic was then passed to Stephan Wullschleger and John Macdonald of Porohita Projects, who tuned in from Switzerland and New Zealand respectively. As Stephan explains, 'Porohita' stands for 'circular' in the Maori language, so it's no surprise that the company is all about circularity in indoor agriculture.
The duo met in the Middle East, where John was working on a bottled water project. Recently he also spent some time in the UAE and Saudi Arabia working on controlled-environment agriculture projects, before moving into vertical farming. "Most importantly, this project was water positive for most of the year, that made it really very exciting", he says about the latter project.
In the Q&A session, the discussion moved back to lighting. "It's very important that you look at the efficacy of the lighting module", Ellis explained. "In the end, some light is for free, so we need a proper business case for a vertical farm to make it economically feasible.
At Signify, they've been working on improving the efficiency of lighting modules, but as Ellis points out, the other part is also crucial: the yield of your farm. "That yield is influenced by the light spectrum. What you gain in kilograms in yield in your farm, has a direct impact on your price - not only the cost price, but also the sales price.
"So it's a combination of having the right spectrum and the right module. Do not only look at capital expenditure, but look at the total light plan."
John agrees that it's important to take into account energy as a critical factor and a really big cost. "Water positivity is interesting and emotionally nice to achieve, but it's not going to be your biggest cost, so energy is the one to work on."
The Vertical Farming World Congress continues until the 24th of September. HortiDaily will be posting summaries of several of the sessions in the near future, so keep an eye out for those updates!