“Vertical farming has a big energy footprint, which places limitations on the return-on-investment story for investors or the viability of the industry in general for that matter,” says Josh Siteman, Managing Director of Intravision Canada. “Growers have this big battle of trying to sell a two-dollar head of lettuce against massive labor and energy bills on the operations side.
Obviously, there isn’t a lot that can be done about energy, it is what it is today: vertical farming is energy-intensive. However, according to Josh, the labor component can be addressed when automation is successfully integrated without completely going overboard. Especially from a capital expenditure point of view. It does contribute to the business model. Obviously, things are getting more energy-efficient, so the prospects of vertical farming will eventually improve. If it is possible to homogenize airflow distribution, moisture removal, light quality and distribution of CO2, there’s a winning recipe.
An impression of the to be constructed outside render
Josh says, “Our concept tackling that objective is what we trademarked and patented, the GravityFlow™. It is basically a mash-up of high- and low-tech approaches to vertical farming. I say high-tech because we have integrated automation, but we’ve limited that innovation point to the ends of the system. Our innovation is interfacing the growth environment to automation, achieving homogeneity within the growth environment, using gravity as our farming workforce.”
“Some of the unique features of our system have been optimized through strategic partnerships within academia, automation, air management and production fields. The greens grown in our design are grown in a sealed and controlled environment with a circular air and nutrient loop enabling complete control over all aspects of plant growth and development.”
According to Josh, Intravision has addressed the labor component. “Everyone wants to create jobs, and although we are eliminating general labor, we are creating smart jobs by hiring plant scientists and people in technical positions. We have made a labor efficient facility which can be managed by a few people. The benefit here is that there is very tight environmental control, specifically tailored to growing plants.”
“In the background, there is a lot of ongoing research. We are a research-based company and continuously investing in R&D,” Josh affirms. “We’re collaborating with PhD and MA students at the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) at the University of Guelph in order to further optimize our biological opportunities and technology. Which is a great benefit for our partners with whom we empower through collaboration.”
Stumbled upon by accident
“I got involved with vertical farming coincidentally, meeting Intravision vis-à-vis another job opportunity altogether and Intravision’s vertical farming prototype came together by yet another series of coincidences as well. Originally designed for a biotech company, our platform transitioned to a food production system after meeting a group in Toronto who thought vertical farming was a really good idea for servicing the Toronto restaurant community.
Now we are supplying farming technology all over the place. We haven’t actually built the biotech facility yet, but we are very much looking forward to that day. Offering systems to controlled environment agriculture markets that demand standardized and repeatable processes is what we have achieved, and the future of farming is here to stay.