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UK: House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee visits Kent-based vertical farm

Members of the Lords Horticultural Sector Committee visited Kent-based vertical farm GrowUp Farms in Sandwich last week to find out about how vertical farming will play a key role in the future of farming.

Lord Carter, Lord Colgrain, Lord Coles, Baroness Fookes, Lord Redesdale, and Baroness Walmsley visited the farm - called Pepperness - which is leading the charge in vertical farms in the UK as it was the first to sell its salad ranges through UK supermarkets.

The House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee was created in April this year to produce a report on the horticultural industry. A 12-strong committee from all parties, including crossbenchers, is considering the challenges faced by the sector, which is worth billions to the UK economy and is a significant contributor to UK food security.

The supply chain is significantly reduced, so the salad only travels from Kent to UK supermarkets rather than from overseas. It tastes fresher and crisper and lasts longer than other salads, which means there's less waste produced too.

"We're very proud of what we are achieving here at Pepperness and the part we're playing in the future of food security for the UK," said Kate Hofman, founder and Chief Brand Officer of GrowUp Farms. "Currently, the UK imports around 67% of its salad from warmer climates, and this rises to 90% in the winter*, so vertical farms can help the UK to be more self-sufficient in producing food."

"We were delighted to welcome the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee to Pepperness, and we very much support the inquiry into the considerable challenges facing this sector, not least the effects of climate change.

"We grow, harvest, and pack our salads for supermarkets across the UK, all at Pepperness in Kent. The farm's highly controlled environment simulates a beautiful Mediterranean spring day, every day, providing the perfect growing conditions for salad."

Lord Redesdale, Chair of the Committee, said: "Horticulture is worth billions to the UK economy. From healthy fruit and vegetables to the multitude of crop and plant varieties that can be grown in the UK, it is a fundamental component of a secure food supply, supports the well-being of millions of people, and could provide innovative solutions to the challenges presented by climate change. Despite this, horticulture has been continually overlooked and undervalued.

"As part of our inquiry, we were delighted to visit Pepperness and see how GrowUp Farms is putting real innovation into practice to build resilience in the UK horticulture sector."

Pepperness was originally a brownfield site. Following £100m investment, GrowUp Farms is building the equivalent of 1000 acres of Grade 1 farmland on the site and has recently got the green light to further expand the farm, which will increase its output by 40%.

Hofman does have a wider message for the government: "Although we are already producing food and selling it through the UK's biggest supermarket, we are at a disadvantage compared to traditional growers when it comes to access to incentives. Vertical farms are treated as an emerging technology, which means we cannot benefit from the 'Sustainable Farming Incentive' in Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), which traditional farmers receive to improve their practices.

"If vertical farming continues to be treated as an emerging technology, the government is missing an opportunity to grow the industry, create a sustainable supply chain, and deliver the outcomes laid out in the government's Environment Plan. The extension of ELMS to include vertical farming would create a level playing field for more farming techniques that produce high-quality food and take care of the environment."

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