"There is plenty of money available to invest in vertical farming at the moment, but once this has been done, the cultivation must also be profitable. At the moment, that is exactly where the problem lies. That is why we are currently looking at cost savings with growers who use Growfoam foam substrates," says Niels Steenvoorden, Chief Commercial Officer. "Our experience is that it is possible to save up to twenty percent on operational costs when using our substrates, and not only in multilayer cultivation."
Niels Steenvoorden is COO at Growfoam
For the past few years, Growfoam has been on the rise with its 100% biodegradable and CO2-neutral produced clean foam. With the political and social pressure on traditional peat substrates, among other things, the company has the wind at its back.
"We cannot yet say that we are necessarily achieving higher productions compared to traditional substrates, but we are competitive, especially when you look at the properties of our substrates, which mean that savings can be made in many areas of cultivation. In the meantime, we are working hard on specific Growfoam cultivation recipes that will help to make the final step in terms of yield."
Customers tell Niels and the Growfoam team that they are no longer bothered by algae growth, therefore providing a cleaner cultivation system, higher yields, more regular germination of seeds, and, not unimportantly, shorter cultivations due to faster growth, often allowing them to grow more crops per year.
"At the end of the day, it all adds up. And that's without maintenance, for example. I think entrepreneurs easily misjudge the man-hours and new materials that are needed to keep systems clean and free of failures."
How big the percentage savings are compared to existing substrates varies by system and crop, but it can be as high as 20% savings, is Growfoam's experience based on extensive customer feedback. "In any case, we want to start the discussion on possible cost savings and see with growers where savings can be made."
On the website of the foam substrate producer, a special page lists the potential savings for each cost item. Growfoam has found that, on average, the biggest savings can be made in the area of automation.
Niels: "Our product is very suitable for automation. Machines that transplant plugs can grip the plugs well, and because we do not work with loose soil, growers can move the plugs soon after sowing. The plugs do not have to be fully rooted."
Niels agrees that other substrates are also easy to automate these days. This is only natural in a market that is slowly moving in that direction. "That is why we also distinguish ourselves in other areas. For example, our substrate is easy to store and cheaper to transport because of its low weight.
"Moreover, the disposal costs of our substrates are lower than those of other substrates commonly used in the market because Growfoam is Industrial (and almost Home) Composting certified. Because make no mistake, even at the end of a crop, there are often significant cost savings to be made."
Looking at cultivation systems
As indicated above, Niels sees major opportunities for savings in vertical farming in particular. "That's because this sector is scaling up from small R&D cultivation sites to much larger commercial farms. Systems are now being optimized for this based on the experience gained on a small scale. We are also in contact with machine builders."
"The systems that are now being developed for vertical farming are often more flexible than systems that have existed for years for growing on water in greenhouses, for example. For example, the holes for the plugs are frequently designed for 'older' plugs/press clods that are, mostly, larger than ours. However, with our plugs, there is no difference in yield with a crop with a large or small plug, but we do make larger plugs, especially for such systems. However, these plugs also cost more because they require more raw materials.
With its focus on cost savings, Growfoam works with growers to determine what is possible in their cultivation facility using Growfoam substrates. Nevertheless, the foam substrate producer continues to take steps and develop its products. Niels: "We started out with lettuce, but now we are also focusing on herbs. Growers use sowing pits for that. We have adapted our product to compete with existing substrates in the market.
Growfoam is also looking at shredding its substrate, making it look like loose soil, but with the unique airy structure that makes Growfoam unique. They call this product Growfoam Soil. "We are now looking at opportunities to mix this product with existing substrates to create a competitive substrate mix. There is interest in this from growers of arugula and baby leaf varieties, among others. It is already being used to grow herbs and is technically feasible, but now it is up to us to make the final push in terms of cost-efficiency. Because let that be the common thread in this story: there is still a lot of profit to be made in this area for everyone.
Growfoam can be found at GreenTech Live&Online in the RAI in Amsterdam from 28 to 30 September at stand 01.454.