Grahame Dunling is a fourth-generation grower with over 40 years of horticultural experience. He is even known as 'Mr. Salad', because, as one of his peers once said, "What he doesn't know about salads isn't worth knowing."
Grahame recently moved back to the UK to embark on an exciting new adventure with his son Matthew. In December 2020, they founded the company Worldwide Local Salads (WWLS) to produce premium salad crops with a focus on quality and taste.
The salad crops are produced in vertical farms. "The industry is changing," Grahame explains. "Huge numbers of companies are investing in vertical farming, but often the required knowledge is lacking. Our strength lies in our ability to transform the knowledge we have in high-tech greenhouse cultivation to vertical indoor cultivation. In fact, in a greenhouse you are always 'battling' the elements by heating, cooling, and creating shade, whereas in a vertical farm or 'warehouse' you are actually managing the elements."
This means managing the microclimate with the utmost precision. "In a vertical farm there can be more problems with humidity than in a greenhouse because the plants are closer together, but we have been working with sensors since the mid-1970s, which have been specially adapted for this purpose. We even developed our own brand of LED lights with their own unique spectrum. In this way, we can grow all crops, especially baby leaf lettuce, head lettuce, but also tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, or strawberries, using the same cultivation method and the same equipment, and therefore the same LEDs," says Grahame.
Grodan's growing media
The growing medium is another important factor in this system. "As an inert material, rockwool is clean and hygienic. Because no soil is required, the risk of contamination by diseases in the soil or roots is eliminated," he says. Grahame has worked with Grodan as the exclusive supplier of stone wool substrate since the late 1980s. "We tried different suppliers, but Grodan's products realized better plant health and performance. We use six different types of plugs and blocks for our different crops, but the capillary action of Grodan's products is unmatched."
In addition, Grahame is very pleased with the support he receives from Grodan: "It's not like they call once a year for the order. Grodan's experts advise us on a regular basis about cultivation strategies, for example about irrigation and nutrients. In addition, I am always working on innovation and they support me in this: we continuously work together to further adapt their existing products to my needs. For example, we are currently working on small adjustments to their plugs to further optimize germination and crop quality in our automated system."