There are a number of key variables to consider when setting up your own vertical farm that calls for considerable financial clout. Light Science Technologies offers a bespoke solution that helps growers to achieve maximum yield while saving costs and energy.
The rising AgriTech start-up offers the first of two features offering tips to help you to reap optimum results and high returns.
Tip 1: Location, location, location
While you don’t need as much land as traditional growing, finding the right location for your vertical farm is crucial. The wrong location can prove a costly mistake, so do your homework before committing. Do you have the right local infrastructure in place to get your product to your buyer as efficiently as possible? Can you source enough electricity? How much does water cost in this county compared to the next one over?
Tip 2: Minimize energy costs
However, energy-efficient your operation is, you’re still going to use a huge amount of electricity every year. The most cost-effective solution might be to create your own renewable energy. That isn’t possible for all sites, but even micro-generation could help to bring your OPEX down.
Tip 3: Engage the experts
Let’s be frank: vertical farming is no small subject. Start building relationships as early as possible with people who know everything on it, from lighting and data to botany.
Tip 4: Balance OpEx and CapEx costs
Think big picture in terms of cost. Spending more initially could reap rewards later on. For instance, heavier investment in technology in order to automate seeding, feeding, watering and harvesting will require a greater initial outlay, but a far smaller workforce; labour costs can easily account for over 50% of a vertical farm’s OpEx.
According to CambridgeHOK, a small vertical farm with minimal automation costs around £1,000 per square metre to set up. A large farm with full automation will cost in the region of £3,000 per square metre. You’ll also need to factor in OPEX differences to the growing system you choose (hydroponic, aeroponic, and/or aquaponic).
Tip 5: Don’t cut corners
Buy wisely. Avoid gambling on cheaper products, such as mass-produced imported lighting. Ensure major costs come with decent guarantees and support in place should anything go wrong.
Cutting corners now could cause repercussions later down the line, and not just in maintenance and replacement costs. Cheaper options could spell inflexibility, killing your vertical farm’s true potential.
6. Choose your crops carefully
There are pros and cons to different types of crops. Quick-growing plants tend to be cheaper to grow, resulting in an abundance of product. However, some slower-growing crops, such as medicinal cannabis, can earn you far more per plant. Some crops require less energy. Others take up less space so you can pack more in. Fastidious research and number crunching will help you to choose the best option for your own vertical farm.
Tip 7: Know your audience
Assuming there’s a market for what you’re growing is where you could fall short. Many vertical farmers focus on fast-growing salad crops. In an optimised environment, you could end up producing 30 tonnes of salad a day. But can you guarantee sales of lettuce through the depths of winter? Potentially, this could either mean considerable wastage or letting part of your vertical farm sit idle for weeks on end, which will mean diminishing returns.
Sound planning and organisation from the start is essential and will enable you to factor in a different crop switch every few months with flexible lighting systems, if required.