“By the end of 2022, we will be producing 1.3 million kilograms of strawberries between three facilities. We’re not looking to replace summer production so we’ll be down for three months, then in full production for nine months,” says Yves Daoust, founder and COO of Winter Farm. The company is based outside Montreal and specializes in strawberry production in vertical farms.
Winter Farm has designed a turnkey system for strawberry production and is seeking partnerships with other local growers, with the goal of installing its system adjacent to other production systems to introduce circularity. For example, Winter Farm is looking to install its vertical farms adjacent to other facilities so that the heat produced by the vertical farm can be recovered and circulated in adjacent areas to reduce the overall energy demand.
Rather than selling its patented system to growers, Winter Farm forms partnerships with growers through which the company handles the financing, installation and maintenance of the system while the growers simply manage the strawberry production. Winter Farm then buys the berries at a fixed cost and markets them under the Winter Farm brand.
First commercial facility opened in November 2021
In November 2021, Winter Farm inaugurated its first commercial facility in partnership with Les Serres Vaudreuil, just outside of Montreal. The vertical farm built by Winter Farm spans 1150 square meters and includes 11 strawberry walls or modules. Each module has 14 rows of strawberries, which are 26m long and are stacked on top of each other. With this first unit, Winter Farm is aiming to produce 180 tons of strawberries per year between October and June.
As Yves explains, Winter Farm is currently building two additional facilities in 2022 and will produce roughly 1.3 million kg of strawberries. As the province of Quebec is already a major strawberry-producing region during the summer months, Winter Farm is focused on bringing local strawberries to market during the winter months and selling at the same cost of local summer strawberries.
Using vertical farms to reduce greenhouse heating costs
Winter Farm’s installation at Les Serres Vaudreuil will also showcase one of the main advantages to vertical farm-greenhouse partnerships, according to Yves. Through its water-cooled LEDs and heat pump, Winter Farm will be providing its excess heat to the adjacent greenhouse, thereby reducing the energy requirements for the greenhouse for heating during the winter months.
Multiple government incentives are currently available to help farmers improve their energy efficiency. And as Yves explains, integrating vertical farms into greenhouse facilities is an effective method of improving energy efficiency.
“Our vertical solution is eligible for various loans and funding programs focused on energy efficiency, water recycling and production efficiencies,” says Yves.
Aside from improving energy efficiencies, Winter Farm is also fixed on improving operational efficiencies through automation and advanced sensor technology. Winter Farm offers agronomic support and consultancy thanks to the agronomists on the team but is also working to digitize the agronomic knowledge to eventually develop digital analysis tools to detect crop issues.
“Educating a machine to diagnose a disease does not happen overnight. The innovation comes from observing the plants with modern techniques. There are a lot of products working on software for mapping or detecting. It is all about the plants and making sure that they are healthy,” says Yves.
Winter Farm is currently focusing on the North American market, although the company has received interest from various countries overseas.