Starting an indoor farm can be quite a challenge as all technical aspects have to be perfectly aligned with each other. If you think you know everything about a certain type of crop that is grown in a greenhouse, there is a lot more to learn and achieve when growing that crop indoors. For this particular reason, Certhon not only offers technological solutions for building indoor farms but also provides additional know-how. This is certainly no luxury, according to Justin Lukoff, Sales Consultant, North American Projects at Certhon.
Justin Lukoff and Andrea Huegler showing VFD Certhon’s state-of-the-art research innovation center at Certhon’s Global HQ in The Netherlands.
“We’ve seen many global companies, especially many VC backed US companies, struggle with the shift to indoor farming. That is why we started investing in our own research innovation center and plant scientists back in 2017. In order to serve our future customers, whether indoor farmers or greenhouse growers, we need to prove to ourselves first the optimal recipes, lighting strategies, and everything else that leads to optimized growing conditions.”
Certhon is now building upon its largest commercial indoor farm with its customer Madar Farms in the UAE. “Like everyone, they started growing in a container, studying non-traditional ways of growing and looking for pathways to enter the local market. Although container farming obviously has its limits, they were ready to take the next step to high-tech, commercial-scale indoor farming,” says Justin.
Inside the Certhon Innovation Centre Certhon where a raspberry (left) and a strawberry (right) trial are being held in the growth chambers.
Rather than using the term vertical farming, Justin prefers to recognize it as indoor farming without daylight. “We believe in the great potential of indoor farming and we focus on the innovation of techniques. Therefore, we work closely with our own in-house, highly-skilled plant scientists (of which many studied at Wageningen University), who are doing research on different crop types and cultivation methods so that we know exactly how to translate the customer’s wishes to a concrete production plan."
LED lighting trial for the indoor raspberry cultivation at the Certhon Innovation Centre.
Justin adds: "With our Innovation Centre, we’re looking at everything through a unique lens, making the growing process more advanced and also more efficient.”
Providing the knowledge
Certhon sees a difference between the customers that contact them. Regular greenhouse growers already possess knowledge about the industry, whereas indoor farms are usually purchased via investors who may be relatively new to the world of protected agriculture. “We notice that people are not always aware of the plant response within indoor farming.
This kind of knowledge has to be provided to customers,” says Andrea Huegler, one of Certhon’s leading in-house plant scientists who support Certhon in providing knowledge to customers worldwide. An example of relevant knowledge about indoor growing is saving on the already high energy costs. “Plants don’t need light 24h hours a day, nor do they care what time it is, as long as you keep a daily cycle. This means you could run the lights during off-peak hours when energy prices are lower.”
Andrea Huegler, plant scientist and R&D engineer working at Certhon, in the latest tomato trial in the Certhon Innovation Centre.
One of the benefits of indoor farming, according to Justin, is that it follows consumer trends, who increasingly demand that food is produced more sustainably and accessible year-round. Despite the large-scale focus on indoor farming in the company, Certhon does not believe in one standardized model. “Many companies are stressing a modular solution, but for efficient crop production in an indoor setting, customized solutions should be the priority. The types of strawberries we see in demand in Asia may be very different from those grown in the US. A different cultivar calls for a different system,” Justin adds.
Latest tomato trial in the Certhon Innovation Centre.
Certhon is researching a wide variety of crops such as raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce and more. And they are continuously expanding their portfolio. For instance, this month, Certhon plans on doing a raspberry trial that is four times bigger than the one it did last year.
Strawberry and lettuce grown under water-cooled LEDs in Certhon’s propagation chambers.
This is also where Andrea and her team at Certhon have come in handy. As she notes, “Indoor farming is not replacing traditional ways of growing. It simply provides tools for areas where it has previously been hard to grow certain crops. That is why each area needs different solutions”.
Trial of lettuce grown in an NFT system at the Certhon Innovation Centre.
Some of the future plans that Certhon has involved automation and robotics, especially with the recent involvement of minority owner DENSO. “We always remain focused on the future of growing and with DENSO in our court, the possibilities are endless,” says Andrea.