“There’s still a lot of growth to be gained with the current set of crops that the industry can grow. Both in terms of crop variety and quality. Maybe in a few years, we might be able to see mainstream crops grown with a much higher concentration of beneficial active ingredients. Somewhere between conventional and superfood,” said Eric Dargent, Managing partner at Mycelium during a DBMR conference panel on the past, present, and future potential of vertical farming.
Alongside Eric, others joining the panel were Vedant Sachdeva with FarmVent, Stefan Fürnsinn with Herbeus Greens, Irum Saadia Khan with Ghent University, and Taabish Sayed with DBMR Conferences.
The participants joining the webinar
Adding fruiting crops to the basket
Eric continues to explain that leafy greens are only a small part of the global diet. Therefore, the largest funded companies are said to focus on fruiting crops like berries, tomatoes, and peppers in 5-10 years. This still would only represent 15% of their production, which has been the best data available in the evolution of this industry, Eric noted.
“If there’s going to be a disruption either from the energy or agronomical side, in terms of accelerating technology, there’s a bright future ahead for vertical farming. As of now, economic constrictions are so high that only a small portion of the crops can be grown economically. This is definitely a limiting factor for me.”
Is vertical farming better than greenhouse farming?
“It really depends on your customers and what volumes you have to supply, as well as local weather conditions. We can see that greenhouse farming is evolving into more climate control. Therefore, the frontier between greenhouse farming and vertical farming is becoming thinner. It’s better to speak of CEA as a whole from now on really. Just think of how much tech and climate control you need to achieve the set production objectives. Based on that, you either choose greenhouse growing or vertical farming,” Eric noted.
Lowering imports, increasing local jobs
Stefan asked for an example of a successful vertical farm concept that really showcases the added value of vertical farming. Eric noted, “We have to acknowledge that the industry is at a young stage. Yet, vertical farming has shown its impact already. Ljusgårda, for instance, which is a fairly large-scaled farm in Sweden, has been very down to earth in its approach. Instead of spending lots of money on R&D and raising the technology bar, they used local materials instead. With their farm production, Ljusgårda is replacing imports by supplying loads of salads on a daily basis.
Image retrieved from OCS Overhead Conveyor System, which supplied the conveyor systems to Ljusgårda
Eric explains that in terms of climate change, their resources are sustainable and climate-friendly. Especially by them using local resources, equipment-wise and energy-wise through renewables. As well as creating food and jobs locally serving hundreds of retail customers in Sweden Now, that’s making a big difference in sustainability. Therefore, according to Eric, as in Sweden e.g. vertical farming is making a difference, the sector is very promising for many other countries in the world.
In regards to Covid, Eric noted, we’ve seen lots of businesses boom, as they were able to meet the local demand, by growing locally. However, since prices have gone up in several supply parts for vertical farming systems through disruption, we need to take into account that while meeting the demand and scaling up, there’s also a risk enclosed.