The Scunthorpe farm was set up in 2018, and ever since, JFC has never turned off the lights of production. It took CEO James Lloyd Jones about 1.5 years to get everything right, from an ROI, product quality and consistency aspect. Starting at scale made if affordable to keep up production. The 5000m2 cultivation area comprises 17 layers and is 12m high.
The Scunthorpe farm was turned on in 2018 and production hasn’t stopped since. It took CEO, James Lloyd-Jones, about 2 years to get everything right, scrutinizing ROI, product quality, and yield consistency. Focusing on growing at scale from the start made the crops more affordable, therefore justifying production.
Every month, 15 tons of basil is harvested and sent off to JFC customers. At Scunthorpe, JFC has specialized in growing basil for multiple channels including retail, recipe box suppliers, and restaurants. The company doesn’t pack the produce into shelf-ready packaging, instead, the crop is harvested and packed into crates which are supplied to their customers.
“Focusing on one product, for now, means that from a supply chain perspective we can improve efficiency and quality and remove the need to pack ourselves.”
Besides basil, JFC cultivates parsley, coriander, barley grass, chives, and rosemary. The growers also conduct other trials in the facility on request for clients. “Our prices are competitive, and we know this as we have been supplying supermarkets consistently in 2020. Our basil can be found alongside traditional herb suppliers in white-label products nationally.” The farm covers 8% of its electricity consumption via solar power through panels installed on the roof.
As Romy explains, the Scunthorpe site was a repurposed cold store, an affordable alternative to traditional farmland, this automatically made operations more affordable. Since North Lincolnshire also has strong distribution roots available, produce can move quickly and efficiently from the farm to its customers. Scunthorpe’s central location also means it is closely located in larger cities in the area.
Lydney’s 15.000m2 farm
The 15,000m2 farm in Lydney is set for completion in Q4 in 2022. As well as the new farm in Lydney, also known as JFC2, Jones Food Company will be launching a smaller facility in Bristol which will be their innovation base. The Innovation Center comprises eight growing chambers that allow the team to run various R&D trials to set growing parameters for potential future crops. Supplying new partnerships and the current customers base, JFC2 is able to eventually offer more products unlocking more capacity.
The aim is to automate transplanting, harvesting, and many more tasks inside the new farm. “We’ve learned a lot from this farm, so there will be many improvements on various aspects.” James is said to have his sights on JFC3 and JFC4 already, with the focus on co-locating with the company’s partners, creating an efficient supply chain.
Romy revealed that JFC2 is set to be fully powered by solar energy to be completely off the grid. Given the energy prices that are constantly increasing, the company is set to fuel the farm with renewables to ensure a sustainable source of produce. Due to the high humidity levels in the farm (68% humidity), water is recaptured and re-used in the filter. Alongside that, rainwater is filtered by UV-C light and put back into the farm to make as much use possible of sustainable resources.
A special feature of JFC2 is the different climate options in the one growing room. The new farm allows for variation in airflow, HVAC, and climate conditions from one end to the other. For instance, the one end can be hotter, whereas the other end can be cooler. The hope is to produce crops such as coriander and parsley at the same time, with similar conditions but slightly varying temperatures.
JFC is always looking for ways to improve the growing parameters and recipes, substrate, and seed varieties. “If it notably shows yield or quality benefits, we’ll phase it in with a bigger scale trial, adding new parameters to see how it will perform. We’re lucky we can do it on a big scale to avoid rushing into decisions. For instance, we recently trialed a bespoke, a mixture of matrass and wool used to maximize seedling growth,” says Hannah, R&D specialist at JFC.
Romy points out that the size of the farm really makes mass production much more convenient. It’s not going to be basil only anymore, the company will add a soft herb range as well.
JFC aims to offer a wide variety of vertical farming produce, including strawberries. This will be achieved through a streamlined flow in the farm and most importantly, automation. “We’re quite conservative about what information we do and don’t release as it's always changing! However, we’re aiming to make production as efficient as possible. Thus, in the long run, it's all about increasing the level of automation and AI implemented, so that the crops are more affordable.”
James added that, "By developing, building, and owning our own plant factories we’ve developed a business model that allows us to grow considerably larger volumes at a price that means we can put crops into the market all year round so that we can compete with imported produce. Being part of a secure supply chain is paramount to JFC and it's where we see the future."