“You could best divide our products and services into three parts, being: external research and in-house contract research in our R&D labs, providing total indoor farming solutions, and collaborating in research projects,” explains Maarten Vandecruys, co-founder and CTO at Urban Crop Solutions (UCS).
The Plant Biology team
UCS, a Belgian pioneer company in the indoor farming scene, recently made headlines with the announcement that the research consortium with whom they are developing the next generation of bread products to support future space missions, SpaceBakery, won the Gold Prize at the Global Space Exploration Conference. But intergalactic missions aren’t the only thing on the company’s mind…
UCS's ModuleX growing solution in action
“We are already looking into expanding our Research Centre due to the high demand for our contract research services, and our indoor biology research expertise. Our added value is to provide a completely tailored plant recipe as part of our end-to-end solution offering,” said Maarten. Normally, a product will be delivered and it’s up to the customer to see how the product works. However, UCS firmly believes that aftercare delivers the best results.
Depending on the crops to be grown, the client first has to give certain specifics about the preferred crop. Then UCS will look into its existing growing recipes, and whether it fits their needs. Eventually, if it’s something new or deviating from it, then UCS starts research on finding the best growing envelope for the client. “We’d rather sit down with them, providing the right solution so clients can hit the ground running,” Maarten notes.
Kale grown and monitored in the UCS lab
Currently, in its labs, UCS is researching the growing conditions for multiple plants, such as wheat, kale, and basil. With the help of several sensors, juice flows are measured via the plant stem to analyze their optimal growing conditions. Several data points are used to log the process of plant growth.
Wheat is grown indoors
“Moreover, our approach to optimizing plant growing conditions is that of a holistic one”, explains Maarten, when referencing their other research activities. Notably, that which they are currently conducting on fully compostable substrates, as well as the use of additives such as biochar, which not only benefits the quality and yield of a plant but the entire industrial footprint.
“In these research projects, we want to obtain the most optimized results for our clients to ensure the best crop growth and a successful yield. We don’t want them to fail, but instead to succeed. That’s why aftercare is so important for us as well,” says Maarten.
Trials for improvement
The focus of the AI is maximizing yield per kg, to optimize growth. “It will take a lot more R&D to get the right parameters here,” Maarten adds. The cameras will log the progress of plants, putting all data through to the collection database. Over time, more exciting projects will be announced according to Maarten. These cannot be publicly announced yet, but the company is aiming to focus on more diversified crops within indoor farming. Some crops aren’t even introduced to the vertical farming space.