“High costs are the biggest problem in vertical farms,” says Hannah Brown, CCO & Co-Founder of Organifarms. “We’ve been looking at energy use to partially solve the issue, but we didn’t see a got fit for us to lower anything in that area. Then we started tackling another big expenditure, labor. We’re lowering costs for labor-intensive crops such as strawberries as it's barely impossible to grow them profitably in a vertical farm now.”
Organifarms was created in 2020 as a result of a hackathon, where all current co-founders met. The company develops automation technology for indoor farming systems, which also includes greenhouses. Their main product is the harvesting station, which automates complex farm processes like harvesting and quality control.
Automating strawberry production
“The reason why we chose to focus on automation for strawberry production is that we saw a great interest from the industry. The product is heavily imported as demand for strawberries is very high when looking at Germany,” says Hannah. “Unfortunately, it’s not sufficient to supply them year-round. That’s why we have to add vertical farming here, to be less dependent.”
As of now, automation makes more sense for larger farms. “However, as technology further develops, wide-scale production arrives, and more products are introduced it eventually will become cheaper,” Hannah affirms. “Another thing could be that products are offered at a lower price, for smaller farms as well. With our stationary application, we can enhance tasks being faster and more secure, controlling the environment better when always having it at the same spot.
As the food demand is increasing, it’s necessary to grow indoors for increasing yields and lowering resource use and food waste. Indoor farming is part of that solution and can help reach that goal, says Hannah. Automation has to come into play here, to lower the costs. As seen in other industries, says Hannah, such as the car industry, eventually many processes were automated to lower costs.
A photo of the prototype
Therefore, it makes sense to not have many people on a farm, automating lots of processes. Next to that, hard work can be eliminated, and instead, we can increase and promote opportunities such as jobs in automation and data science.
Looking for pilot partners, Organifarms tests its harvesting station in a pilot farm where strawberries are cultivated. With larger amounts of fruit to be harvested during the tests, the reliability of the system can be ensured. Additionally, the integration into the farmer’s systems is optimized to make sure the product launch in Q2 2022 is successful.
“We’re looking for pilot customers to test the harvesting station. We’re also developing a farming station, whereas later on we’ll be targeting crops like vegetables and adding additional features like plant care and pollination”, says Hannah. Organifarms’ strawberry farming unit currently manages harvesting, quality control, and sorting.