Coronavirus crisis fuels interest in vertical farming

The coronavirus pandemic has been a major worry for many British farmers, threatening access to agricultural labor and complicating international supply chains. But for proponents of indoor farming, the crisis has offered an opportunity.

David Farquhar, chief executive of technology developer Intelligent Growth Solutions, says the pandemic has prompted a spike in interest in ‘vertical farms’, where batches of crops can be individually watered, fed and lit using LED lights, allowing them to be grown year-round with minimal labor near their markets, regardless of local soil or weather conditions.

At the company’s demonstration farm in Invergowrie near the Scottish city of Dundee, trays of produce stacked in 9 meter-tall towers are managed remotely from seeding to packaging. Humans only need to enter the towers for occasional maintenance. “You can run it entirely on robotics . . . You probably need to go in once every six months,” Mr. Farquhar said. 

This higher productivity will have particular appeal to British farmers, who are facing a steep increase in costs because coronavirus restrictions have affected the arrival of seasonal workers from eastern Europe. Brexit may also make it more difficult to access labor from the bloc when the UK’s transition period expires at the end of the year.

Colin Campbell, chief executive of the James Hutton Institute, a research organization that hosts the IGS farm and another vertical farming company, Liberty Produce, said the global food supply system had generally worked well during the pandemic. But he added that the crisis had highlighted worries about food safety and the risks of relying on seedlings or produce grown far away from where it is consumed. “Covid-19 is making a lot of people rethink how we want to grow our food,” he said. 

Read more at FT (Emiko Terazono)

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