Could vertical farming help avoid Brexit supply issues?

Ireland's network of disused mushroom houses could be the ideal infrastructure to develop a hydroponic farm system which could, in turn, reduce our dependence on imports of herbs, salads, and small greens.

Hydroponic farming uses water rather than soil to grow plants. It uses much less water than conventional growing, a tiny amount of space and is immune from adverse weather conditions because it is indoors.

One farm in Tipperary has started the transition. Near Ballyporeen, one of eight mushroom tunnels is now converted into a vertical farm. Brian O’Reilly had been growing mushrooms for almost two decades, but tight margins and anxiety over the potential impact of Brexit made him change course.

"The risks were too high so we decided to step back. Tighter margins were number one and Brexit was the number two reason, and labor was a problem too," he said. Now, he has turned to basil. His first crop will be harvested in the coming days and will be sold into the catering industry.

Mr. O'Reilly said the process of growing herbs and small greens is similar to mushrooms. There is a cycle and within 32 days from planting a seed, the basil is finished. It is grown in tiny pods on shelves with the roots stretching down to nutrient-rich water. Bright LED lights encourage the growth, as does hot air blowing into the tunnel.

A wind turbine nearby generates the electricity and a hot humid house means the plant thrives. But the lights are also powered down for hours in order to let the plants sleep. 

Read more at RTE (Fran McNulty)


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