“We’ve been working on this deal for 2-3 years to get the right solution for the growers. We’re now on our way to delivering by June next year,” says John Leslie, executive director and design engineer at Vertical Farm Systems, an agtech provider based in Queensland, Australia.
Vertical Farm Systems was founded in 2009 and develops turnkey solutions for multi-level indoor farming. The company’s growing systems use bioponics, an organic alternative to conventional hydroponic methods that traditionally depend on synthetic fertilizers. Rather, bioponics combines organic nutrient sources with beneficial microbes, bacteria and fungi normally found in soil-based systems.
Vertical Farm Systems’ XA Series warehouse system is the company’s flagship product and is highly automated and modular, with 28 different configurations allowing growers to install and later expand to best match their production goals. The XA Series consists of seeding, growing, transport, harvest and grow media recovery modules. The system is well proven for the production of leafy greens, and the company has this year added its XF system for fully automated fodder production, while development work is currently focusing on microgreens, cultivated protein and cannabis.
An overview of how the XA Warehouse Systems
“We’re focusing on developing a microgreen system as we have strong customer demand for that. We’re also working on protein growing systems and are getting a lot of traction for the automated fodder system as well,” says John. “And cannabis is booming; we have $36 million in contracts scheduled just in Australia, in four stages of $9 million each.”
High demand for vertical farming systems
According to John, Vertical Farm System has received numerous inquiries from the United States and is looking for a suitable partner to establish a production facility in North America to address the region’s high demand for vertical farming systems.
Interestingly, roughly 96% of inquiries received by Vertical Farm Systems are not from farmers. John attributes this to farmers mostly being field-based and already having significant capital invested in greenhouses or other infrastructure.
While the XF automated fodder system directly benefits land-based livestock farmers, warehouse vertical farming is directed at urban growing and more profitable local production.
“Farmers are mostly situated on open land with well-developed infrastructure, and very few conventional farmers have a warehouse suited to vertical farming. Really, the benefit of our automated warehouse farming is profitably producing chemical-free food in cities where 70% of the global population now lives,” explains John.
Vertical farming to solve climate challenges, labor shortages
As John explains, Vertical Farm Systems automates its systems to require very little labor and be manageable by 1-2 people. And those people don’t need to be farmers or horticulturalists by training – the technology isn’t difficult to use and is designed to alert employees of any adjustments or required maintenance.
Further, crop production in climate cells allows growers to independently control different cells, use resources as efficiently as possible and maintain high levels of biosecurity. The use of bioponics allows growers to reduce their environmental impact and grow plants without chemicals in as natural a production environment as possible.