"Our aim is to expand in two different ways. One is enlarging the current vertical farm in Poeldijk, the Netherlands, to ensure we meet the increasing demand for locally grown fresh produce by our customers," says Susanne Mosmans, Business Unit Director at Future Crops.
"The second is to provide Agro as a Service. We have the system, knowledge, and know-how to deliver excellence on a big scale. We are currently fundraising to roll out more farms internationally and have signed a number of MOUs. We believe that we can make a lasting impact by providing people locally with daily fresh produce wherever they are. First, we wanted to make sure that everything worked great. Now it's time to spread the word on what we actually can offer the market."
The Poeldijk vertical farm of Future Crops supplies 85 tons of produce per year. The 2500m2 is currently in use, and the nine-layered farm is supplying five different products; basil, coriander, parsley, bay leaves, and dill. Together with clients, Future Crops is diving into products that can be locally grown in the Netherlands. Albert Heijn, a large supermarket chain in the Netherlands, is amongst their client base that sells Future Crops' four herb varieties under white label.
Raising awareness for vertically farmed produce
Susanne's ultimate goal is to bring together growers to explore options on how to excite consumers with tasty, longer-lasting, and pesticide-free products. Often enough, with retailers, it is price rather than looking at the product benefits or sustainability impact. In the future, Susanne and her team will be looking at new crops and exploring new ways to position to educate the consumer and help sell more.
"Products that can be cultivated on Dutch soil ideally have the preference over imports from abroad. However, the biggest consideration of a product is whether it's economically viable," Susanne affirms.
A lifting, moving, and harvesting robot moves trays around to make sure they're all moved- and brought to the harvesting room in time
New farms planned abroad
"Ever since 2018, we started producing commercially, as we did a lot of learning before that. However, back then, no blueprints were available yet on insights, parameters, and so on. That's why we took it on ourselves to design the ultimate blueprint. In order to roll out more farms, eventually, we can easily 'copy-paste' the settings into a new facility. Therefore the technology has to be ready first before we can use it as a standard for the new facilities," says Gio Curiel, Operations and Supply Chain Director at Future Crops.
As Gio gives away, the new farm won't be built in the Netherlands. We've learned the basics here, perfected that, and now it's time to take that internationally. It's not just simply scaling up. It's a combination of data science, plant science, and technology."
Just brought in by the robot and ready for harvest
Within five years, the team has invented, learned, and overcome. This often steep learning curve was needed in order to prevent them from happening in the new farms, explains Gio. The Future Crops team has combined unique knowledge that enabled them to take the next step for expansion. "All mistakes made will eventually pay off. The products grown thus far are excellent, so we know for a fact that we can hit the ground running anywhere.
Inside the R&D center growing recipes are optimized, client-requested product trials are held, and potential products are tested. Currently, a new project is set to kick off once the new LED lamps have arrived. At this moment, the center has 13 rooms dedicated to full-time research. Eventually, the current farm will expand into a larger facility, which is yet ready for kick-off. We have started with the first steps to expand our packing room and post-harvest rooms. A team of people is focused on getting this ready before year-end, explains Susanne.
In regards to sustainability, the company is all for going green as 100% of their energy is renewable. It is sourced via solar panels on the roof and wind energy. Besides that, recycling is a big part of the company policy, whereas substrate is sold to apple- and pear growers. Water usage is 97% recycled through a water treatment system that helps Future Crops to re-use the water through Ozon filters. Lights are constantly improved in terms of efficiency, for which a trial will be soon finished.
"We want to allow healthy and sustainable food for everyone, and the only way to do that is by applying sustainability in every aspect of the business. Our ambition is to do good for the environment and become 100% carbon neutral. In this way, we all win," Susanne adds.