Vertical farming is rapidly developing worldwide and depending on the country or location, there may be different reasons for this development. A lot of the information comes from commercial sources or from scientific research. “However, in the end, a lot of more applied knowledge and practical experience helps to give a realistic picture of vertical farming and the vertical farming business case,” says Jasper den Besten, Senior lecturer at HAS.
“Therefore, organizations and individuals look for sources providing this type of knowledge and experience and end up at Universities of Applied Sciences like InHolland and HAS, for instance, in one of the most experienced high-tech horticulture countries in the world.”
That is why HAS and InHolland have come up with a vertical farming course, named ‘Managing a vertical farm’. The applied course consists of 4 days ranging between theoretical and practical applications of vertical farm management.
Jasper den Besten
Need for educational background
About 12 years ago, HAS introduced vertical farming to its horticulture curriculum. Two years later, they started a Dutch on-site course on ‘Growing without daylight’, and five years later they offered the first English online ‘Growing without daylight’ course. It took some time before Dutch companies, education, research and advice institutes in the western part of the Netherlands really became active in this field.
“However, we are very happy with all the initiatives brought in. We are constantly trying to look for collaborations like this one with InHolland, so we can offer a better ‘product’ together,” Jasper adds.
Lack of knowledge
Jasper explains that vertical farming is still quite new, and it will therefore take a while before it obtains a decent place in university curricula. Moreover, the offer of high-quality courses for staff and management are difficult to find.
People with broad horticultural knowledge and experience often underestimate the vertical farming conditions, such as light, radiation, and transpiration, for instance.
“However, people outside the sector still need to learn basic processes such as ordering seeds, seed storage, seed germination and so on. That’s why courses like this can fill that education gap.”
The goal behind the course is to share real knowledge and experience on vertical farming with the entire industry. In the course, there is a link to theoretical knowledge, in regards to, for example, light and radiation, as well as potential light sources, including practical processes such as light measurement and light plans.
Alongside, measuring important components such as electricity consumption (g/kWh) and calculating electricity use of the vertical farming production cost price. Needless to say, that is the topic of the course.
The course covers all influencing factors from variety choice, seed type, substrate, fertilizers, sowing, and plant density to all other cultivation aspects from harvest and shelf life. “A unique feature of this course is that we can showcase various locations where participants can see all the aspects of vertical farming and more, as well as practical things such as small sowing- and harvest machines,” Jasper adds.
The objective is to help participants with providing knowledge, experience exchange, sharing the HAS and InHolland network, connecting with research and industry players, and helping them make the right decisions for their vertical farming plans.
Increase in indoor farming jobs
Nowadays, requests are coming in from several vertical farms based in Europe, Asia, and America asking to help them find vertical farming staff with green fingers, a ‘green’ background, and a solid high-tech horticulture network.
Jasper notes that HAS hardly has these graduates available for the labor market since they can easily find other interesting horticultural jobs globally. “My advice to vertical farms is to open up for collaboration with local universities and help to train and educate vertical farming staff for the future. Production workers will be replaced by robots and automation soon, but if AI can take over all ‘green finger work’ equally fast is the question.”
From course to bachelor studies?
As Jasper explains, there is a shortage of students in the Netherlands for commercial horticulture courses in general, as horticulture and agriculture are not very popular amongst the youth. Therefore, students can pick internship places and choose jobs from a long list, which does not help a rapidly developing industry.
That is why there is a discussion going on about collaborating with Wageningen University and universities of Applied (Horticulture) Sciences to develop and offer a minor (which would be one semester, a half year at a bachelor level) in this field, open to students from all over the world. “In this way, we can blend Dutch and international students into one group, making it big enough to create the bachelor. We expect that there could be a lot of interest in this minor.”
InHolland University of Applied Sciences