"In our second part looking at how to reduce costs for vertical farming, AgriTech start-up Light Science Technologies offers some more key pointers," says Simon Deacon, CEO of Light Science Technologies. These pointers highlight what factors growers must consider ensuring they’re fully primed for their big venture in order to reap maximum benefits and profit.
Tip 8: Choose lighting carefully
Lighting accounts for anywhere up to 30% of set-up costs for both the initial build and running – it’s one of the biggest expenses. Running them will account for at least a quarter of operational costs.
Getting the lighting right from the start is pivotal to how well crops will grow. By isolating and combining different light wavelengths, the optimum environment can be created for crops. While a one-size-fits-all approach to lighting rigs is a common one, a bespoke solution could offer greater ROI by allowing to grow more for less – and it’s not always more expensive.
Tip 9: Be saving savvy with maintenance costs
On average, LEDs need replacing every five to seven years. And in most cases, that means replacing the whole lighting infrastructure too. With a vertical farm taking around seven years to recoup its initial investment, it’s even more crucial to cut infrastructure costs. Who wants a hefty bill with so many other costs to think about?
"At Light Science Technologies, we take a rather different approach to our competitors," says Simon. "Our infrastructure is designed to last for up to 25 years, which means you’ll only replace bulbs and parts when necessary, but won’t need to invest in a whole new lighting rig, cabling, housing and so on, which equates to a saving of upwards of £100,000s in some cases."
Tip 10: Make sure there’s a market for your produce
This is one of CEO Simon Deacon’s business mantras. It might seem obvious, but neglecting to ensure there’s a market for what is grown is an easy but costly mistake to make. Many vertical farmers focus on fast-growing salad crops, which means in an optimized environment, it could end up producing 30 tonnes of salad a day.
Demand will fluctuate throughout the year. A summer salad won’t sell as much in November. Simon adds: "Considerable wastage or a partially redundant vertical farm are two potential consequences, neither of which is going to give you the return you’re looking for." A crop switch every few months may be possible with flexible lighting systems, but the setup needs to be right from day one.
Tip 11: The right recipe
Through our labs, Simon says, we help you discover the optimum growth recipe for your crops. "That’s making sure your crops are being given exactly what they need, but not exceeding that. This also means your costs stay down while your profits go up."
Tip 12: Use smart technology
Don’t be spooked by data. It’s a grower's friend. It will help and advise growers on what to do for the best to achieve maximum yield. "It can show whether you can get away with turning the lights and heating down, reducing your water, reducing the nutrients and so on. Conversely, it will also tip you off if increasing those factors could lead to a far greater yield. Research will give you a baseline to start from; testing will enable you to optimize that baseline for your particular farm," says Simon.
Although vertical farming requires up to 95% less water than traditional farming, that water comes at a cost. That’s where plant monitoring technology steps in. It can help to ensure that plants receive adequate water without any wastage.
Tip 13: Maximise energy efficiency
Lights and heating account for two of the biggest operational expenses, so only use what's needed is crucial. Part of that comes down to the data analysis covered in the previous article here. Installing an intelligent climate control system from the start will enable growers to harness the heat generated from lights, not waste it. An HVAC system that’s specifically optimized for indoor growing may cost more to start with, but that investment will be recouped and will improve productivity long term.
Tip 14: Collaboration is key
Vertical farming, like most other businesses, is a competitive industry. Farmers, understandably, want to keep what they do under their hats to maintain their market advantage. But that needn’t rule out partnering or working with other organizations, whether it’s a local science park or the nearest university.
Tip 15: Be proactive
When it comes to being proactive, traditional farming and vertical farming are polar opposites. While the former dictates that crops are only watered if it’s absolutely essential, this reactive approach means it can be a little too late by then, as plants are already stressed. With the latter, adopt a proactive mindset by giving the crops what they need before they need it. ... as well as inquisitive.
"Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t settle for the first option," Simon states. "Shop around. Compare products, guarantees and customer support. We welcome those initial conversations at Light Science Technologies and regard client support as a long game. Whether it’s bespoke lighting, performance data, or the evidence you need to present your business case to investors, our aim is to help you to get what you need."