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Research to give vertical farmer good start

Growers worldwide are discovering the possibilities of vertical farming. However, a lot of data is still missing in the still relatively new sector. A good reason for growers to do proper research into their cultivation and their business case before actually scaling up.

Dutch company Artechno, which develops cultivation systems for vertical farming, among other things, helps growers with this by conducting cultivation research for the growers who will start with their systems. For example, an American grower, who bought four AVF + Junior climate cells, recently asked for research about how it is possible to grow basil and coriander in one room. With the results of the research done by Artechno and presented to the grower, the grower can make a good start and validate his own business case.

An overview image from the trial.

The challenge in the trial was to find a good compromise. In addition, basil seems easier to grow at a slightly lower temperature than it is to grow coriander at 26 degrees. The compensation temperature would then be around 23-24 degrees. “Growing at a lower temperature does mean that you lose speed and kilos per square meter in basil,” says Rick.

His research is also primarily intended to protect the grower from "beginner mistakes". "What I have experienced in this trial, they will also experience," for example, with transplanting with organic plugs. “Given the size of the plugs and the fact that they were not yet fully rooted during transplanting, this turned out not to be ideal and to cause extra pollution. I know that the grower is still looking for the right plug or substrate. That is why I hope that this research will give them an extra push in the direction of the ideal substrate or the ideal plug for them.”

Knowledge in advance
Rick van Schie, agronome at Artechno, carried out the research and shares the results of the trial. In De Lier, a cultivation with basil and coriander was set up in an AVF + Junior. In the trial, the focus was on sowing density, light recipe, temperature and time of harvest. In the trial, they deviated from the current conditions at the grower. Four light recipes were compared in the trial. The trial lasted 28 days from seed to end product. Grown in organic plugs. The grower now also cultivates it himself.

Before the start of the cultivation trial, Rick first looked at what is already known about both crops. “Those studies showed that coriander in particular was going to be the challenge. You normally grow that crop at a temperature of 22-24 degrees, while basil needs at least 26 degrees."

The grower, who already uses one cultivation facility, has already selected a light recipe. In addition, Rick used three other light recipes for comparison. Especially the addition of (extra) far-red light was examined. After cultivation, no difference was seen in dry matter measurements between the light recipes used. “The differences you saw were in the fresh weight. That is positive. This shows that the plant has made good use of the light. I saw the same thing before in studies of lettuce.”

In the end, a recipe with a high content of red light combined with blue light, green and far red light came out best in the test. The other recipes had more blue light, less red light, or more green light. “For each crop and also variety, a broad light spectrum study must be carried out in advance to determine which light recipe best suits the plant,” explains Rick.

This actually means that the grower must write down the morphological properties of the plant that are important to him or her in advance. "If these parameters, including weight, plant length or shelf life, are known, then a light spectrum study can be set up faster and more efficiently."

The experiment looked at (extra) addition of far red light.

Another tip that Rick gives the grower is about humidity. Coriander appeared to develop leaf edges at high humidity, in accordance with the climate settings at the grower. “The grower now controls on macroclimate, but I would advise them to control on microclimate and a humidity of 65%. The customer is still looking for the ideal plant height. Especially when the plants in the cell get bigger, it is difficult to maintain a good macro climate.”

The large organic plugs used in the trial turned out not to be ideal for transplanting

Scaling up
This summer, the grower's four 15-square-meter AVF + Juniors will be running. That is half a turn smaller than the climate cells at Artechno on location. Ultimately, the grower in question wants to scale up, but in compartments, Art knows. “When the grower started, they did not yet know which systems were available. They now know that. That is why they can now complete their business case. In the meantime, they and we continue to do research. We are going to test many more different crops for them. The grower rents the cells from us for that."

Artechno in De Lier will also be scaling up itself to enable such preliminary research as a service for even more growers. More climate cells will be added for cultivation research. So Rick is going to be busy? “Certainly”, Art confirms with a laugh, “which is why we are also looking for additional agronomists. They do the research, produce the reports and at the same time the customer can also watch live. As vertical farming is still fairly new, this service helps growers to grow well. Even growers who are already familiar with the way of growing. They see that we sometimes achieve more in our cultivation than they do and can learn from that to optimize. There is still a world for everyone to win.”

Photos: Verdier Creative Video

For more information:

Rick van Schie   

Art van Rijn 

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