Automation enables UK farm to vertically grow vegetables

Posted on 7 Sep 2017 by Jonny Williamson

An indoor vertical farm being built near Dundee is expected to be growing salad leaves and herbs vertically by the end of the year.

Food will be grown in a stacking system in a new building at Invergowrie – image courtesy of JHI

The futuristic construction nearing completion at the James Hutton Institute (JHI) at Invergowrie will be the UK’s first commercially viable vertical farm due to automation.

It is being built by Intelligent Growth Solutions, (IGS) in collaboration with global automation business, Omron.

The company has just closed its facility at Guardbridge where it was working on prototype models which involved combining efficient smart lighting with automation and power to grow fresh produce in vertical towers.

Henry Aykroyd, ISG chief executive, said that the Guardbridge project had led to strong relationships with local universities and scientists at JHI who aimed to improve the plant science involved with this technology.

Aykroyd explained: “Vertical farming allows us to provide the exact environmental conditions necessary for optimal plant growth.

“By adopting the principles of Total Controlled Environment Agriculture (TCEA), a system in which all aspects of the growing environment can be controlled, it is possible to eliminate variations in the growing environment, enabling the grower to produce consistent, high quality crops with minimal wastage, in any location, all year round.”

The company will initially be growing salad leaves and herbs and the long-term goal is to grow a higher volume of lower value products such as tomatoes and cucumbers. IGS then aims to roll out the technology and create other vertical farms across the country.

Food will be grown in a stacking system with LED lighting, and nutrition will come via hydroponics. Mr Aykroyd said automation, energy reduction technology and advanced biological research would be the three key pillars to success.

He added: “Partnering with two leading experts, Omron and the James Hutton Institute, to deliver this provides the very best opportunity for a new approach to vertical farming.”

JHI chief executive professor Colin Campbell said: “This initiative combines our world-leading knowledge of plant science at the James Hutton Institute and IGS’ entrepreneurship to develop efficient ways of growing plants on a small footprint with low energy and water input.”