A farming system that works just as well in a greenhouse in Africa or in an indoor environment in Sweden might sound too good to be true, but GROWPIPES farming system has been designed to do exactly that. “Our system works in all countries, whether in the North with less sunlight or in the South where there is a water shortage,” says Christer Tilk with GROWPIPES.
It all started four years ago in Gothenburg, Sweden. When setting up their first test facility they wanted their vertical farm to be as efficient as possible, but all available systems came with a high price tag. “Besides, they were hard to handle, as either the pipes were not easy to clean after harvest or they had an uneven water flow, drowning some of the plants while others dried out. Via an LED supplier, we came into contact with Christaan Delport a South African farmer with a long experience in hydroponics and we decided to join forces.”
(f.l.t.r.) Christiaan Delport and Christer Tilk
Christiaan: “I started off with growing animal nutriment, but I encountered some struggles with drought and property buying. This made me decide to do something on a small scale that could scale up easily. We started testing our pipes that are 15 cm tall to grow vegetables and leafy greens. Farming on small areas is what we are looking at, as space is one of the biggest limitations that farmers face.”
Christiaan emphasizes that although farming is a risky industry, growing indoors takes away most of the risks. “Last year we had heavy rains, which hindered the harvest greatly. We also face droughts, and water is short in South Africa anyway. We have plenty of sun so we do not need LED here, but being able to control water and temperature makes farming a lot less risky here.
Contrary to field farming, indoor farming hardly wastes any water.” Growing indoor also extends the growth season, which in some African countries is short. “On a normal farm, you might plant only a few crops per square meter. But once you have bought the property, the space above it is free. Our main objective is to help people make good use of that.”
GROWPIPES system is in line with recent urbanization trends. “As people are moving from the farms to the cities, cities need more fresh produce. We provide them local produce and many jobs on the sides. But also in villages jobs are needed, and our system can bring in foreign currencies.”
“The whole idea is to provide an affordable alternative for vertical farmers,” Christer adds. “There are many systems, but they are often high priced and will take a lot of time to pay off. We have designed a LEGO-sort of structure of 15 cm, so it is adjustable to any height. We tested it meticulously, without any leakage. That is important, as we aim to address water scarcity as well.” Christiaan explains: “We are looking at the needs of different target groups, and aim to find solutions for them.”
As GROWPIPES is a very adjustable system it can easily be designed to make use of any space. A project that they are working on includes hanging the system in a conveyor system allowing harvesting and growing in different spaces. “With the right set up, it will be able to reach 50.000 plants per 100m2. It is like a library of greens, and easy to handle. More importantly: it can be scaled up without too much effort,” says Christer.
Growpipes in a greenhouses
Christiaan adds: “Vertical farms need a lot of initial capital and investors have to wait long for their pay-back. With our system, you can start as small as you want and scale up whenever you feel like. Still, GROWPIPES biggest benefit is that we need 2ha to produce the same as conventional farming that uses 50ha.”
For more information:
Christer Tilk, CEO
+46 707 208 810