“We see a key driver of future demand for processed microgreen products such as salad mixes, immune shots, and detox drinks,” Denis Malyshev, co-founder of Plant Factory Technologies (PFT) says. As of now, the company focuses on microgreens cultivation. "However, we’re planning to expand our crop range, as well as creating highly processed products to meet the growing demand.”
PFT currently has a ‘well-stocked portfolio of projects’ as Denis puts it. The company has an on-site production facility in the Leningrad region and another production facility in the ‘freezing’ Irkutsk region. Denis tells that “Soon, two aeroponic greenhouses will be completed in the Leningrad region, that are now under contract. The projects are at a cost of $48 million, with a total growing area of 4.5 hectares.” In addition, the company has requests for large strawberry cultivation projects in Murmansk, Kazan, and Krasnodar.
The company provides two CEA cultivation formats: greenhouses, using supplementary lighting, and vertical farming. Their features include vertical high-pressure aeroponic cultivation and adaptive controlled lighting systems. Denis explains that “Unfortunately, Russia has difficult climatic conditions and poor infrastructure. This severely limits the potential of traditional agriculture. In vertical farming, the keystone is cost stability and availability for the consumer. Therefore, we have now successfully overcome this problem and are implementing cost-effective projects in all geographic latitudes."
"The consumption culture in the Russian Federation is still in its early days. Whereas, Western European consumers, for example, pay much more attention to product quality," says Denis. This is why PFT sees great opportunities in developing its own production facilities abroad. When several large full-cycle clusters have been established in Russia, the company will be ready to expand into foreign markets. "Currently we are taking steps to bring the regulatory and technological base and other parameters of our operations in line with the standards of leading markets".
It is also important for PFT to make products more accessible to its customers. This is why they are planning to develop seeds for vertical farms in Russia and the CIS [RB2] (commonwealth of Independent States) in the future. This will significantly reduce both the cost of production and the end product for consumers. Denis adds, "One of our medium-term goals is to become a self-sufficient seed producer for all PFT production units. This will enable us to guarantee a quality result regardless of the region in which the division is located.” PFT is already developing a seed cluster concept to meet this goal.
Opportunities in CEA
PFT’s first step towards CEA was through the launch of their own Phyto lamps and eventually, a complete lighting system. The next step was developing hydroponic and, soon, aeroponic systems. This quickly evolved into a fully functioning vertical aeroponic growing system. "The subsequent introduction of digital solutions and automated systems led us to what we have today. We offer a modern controlled aeroponic production facility that is flexible, scalable, and transferable," states Denis.
The company is actively expanding its research and development department. As of now, they’re collaborating with one of the largest specialized research centers in Russia (SPC RAS). As part of this cooperation, they are jointly developing automated prototypes and robotization tools for production processes beyond growing," Denis added.
During the exploration process, PFT became aware that technology is not as important as it’s assumed mostly. Denis notes that "Unlike many competitors, scaling up in the market is not our main and only goal. Our goal is to create sustainable and independent vertically integrated industries. From equipment, IT solutions and seeds to final food products, to ensure long-term success."