The vertical farming pilot plant of Swiss companies YASAI and fenaco has started operation. The first products are available from today in around 80 selected Coop stores. After more than a year of planning, development and construction, ETH spin-off YASAI put the vertical farming pilot plant in Niederhasli into operation at the end of 2021 and brought in the first harvest at the beginning of 2022: basil. It will be available in around 80 selected Coop stores in the Zurich, Basel, and Lucerne area from January 24.
In October 2020, the fenaco cooperative announced a collaboration with YASAI and an investment of half a million Swiss francs in the pilot plant to verify the benefits of the new cultivation method. In line with its cooperative purpose, fenaco was committed to supporting Swiss farmers in the economic development of their businesses. "This includes examining and developing new business areas," says Daniel Schwab, Category Manager Vegetables at fenaco Landesprodukte and Project Manager Vertical Farming. "We see our investment as an upfront service and a basis for decision-making for our members, the Swiss farmers. We do not want to produce agricultural products ourselves in the future," he adds.
Great potential for innovative technology
From February 1, 2022, the project will continue to be pursued as an "Innosuisse" research project: With services worth around one million Swiss francs, YASAI, together with specialists from ZHAW, Agroscope, and fenaco, will be able to optimize all of the Vertical Farm's cultivation and work processes. The aim is to improve the yield, quality, sustainability, and profitability of the plant.
YASAI will gradually expand production at the pilot plant. "Starting in March, we will add mint and cilantro to our range. Leafy vegetables and berries are in the planning stages," explains Mark E. Zahran, CEO of YASAI. The innovative technology will then be used on farms over the next few years. Possible applications include areas with little potable water or agricultural land, as well as vacant industrial buildings in Switzerland. "The key to profitable operation lies in scaling up and automating the processes," says Daniel Schwab. "The positive feedback shows me that there is real interest. But it still needs a final validation of the pilot farm and the market potential," he adds.
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