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Automating vertical farming systems, without too many technical components

“From a tech point of view, I think we can realize everything. However, it has to be economically viable. We have to automate vertical farming without too many technical components,” says Sascha Rose, co-founder and Project Manager PMP at ROKO Farming.

After winning a local innovation contest with their vertical farm prototype, twin brothers Sascha and Philip Rose decided to start their own company, ROKO Farming. Once a warehouse was found and the lease signed, the engineers started to work on their pilot farm. The company produces 660 plants in their 4m2 farm with 12m2 growing space, divided over three levels. Before going into this space, the brothers noticed some challenges in the existing vertical farming systems…

Less automation is more
At ROKO Farming, many processes are automated to reduce the investment costs (irrigation, adjustment of the nutrient solution, lighting, climate control). Less technique is more for the economic value in this case. If there are fewer everyday maintenance tasks for instance. “When you have less technical components, not much can fail,” explains Sascha. 

He thinks that there are many different approaches within companies, which according to ROKO Farming is way too complicated. There aren’t many sustainable solutions yet, Sascha affirms. If you really make the effort to be sustainable, you can give back to nature, such as using renewables and sustainable materials. The company tries to be as sustainable as possible by replacing, for instance, the aluminum framework with more sustainable materials.

Same results, less input 
Sascha explains that ROKO Farming’s production is not that expensive as they’re getting the minimum that’s needed. As the greatest focus is on high tech normally, however, as this is not the case, the investment costs are much lower. “We are engineers, so we’re constantly about ‘How can we get the same results with fewer components or less technique?’” All that's needed is technology like sensors and software to analyze data. Then it’s about the plant moving process, which is smart, low-tech and low-cost.

New product approach
Leafy greens and basil aren’t that complicated to grow, explains Sascha. “That’s why we need to phase out other products like potatoes. We’re aware of the fact that it’s not easy to compete with the current production methods of it, but we want to give it a try.,” he adds. These products are nutritious and high in calories. Next to potatoes, the company is looking into other crops such as fruits.

Wanted: Pilot customers
The company has seen great progress in the last months. Currently, they’re looking for pilot customers to test their vertical farming solution. In order to pilot, Roko Farming is looking for growers with indoor space available and if possible, access to cheap energy. Sascha adds, “in the best case, they could have their own photovoltaic production on the roof to even lower these costs. However, most importantly, we’d like to collaborate with growers that are interested in our solution and open-minded in cultivating plants differently.”

The company’s next step is to automatize labor by using robots. Another big one is to find as many pilot customers as possible. Sascha says ROKO Farming modules are quite flexible in terms of crops, because it’s possible to upgrade into other modules that allow for more crop diversity. “We’re planning on providing a multi-product plant too so growers can be very flexible in growing,” he added.

For more information:
Sascha Rose, co-founder and Project Manager 
ROKO Farming