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The indoor farm: can NZ adopt a new approach to production?

Science Group Leader at Plant & Food Research, Dr. Samantha Baldwin, was leading the research on urban horticulture and controlled growing. Her work includes understanding the complex dynamic developing between more intensified urban populations and how best to ensure they have a reliable, affordable food supply.

She sees a move to more intensive CEA farming as one that has already begun, albeit in a small way here in Aotearoa, as more outdoor growers try to mitigate climatic risk by using canopies, netting, and tunneling on their high-value vegetables, fruit, and berries. This has been driven as much by the increased occurrence of devastating climatic events like hail, unseasonal frosts, and wind damage as by greater difficulties in acquiring crop insurance.

Baldwin points to the efforts in the rest of the world to intensify CEA farming and the catalyst it provides for her and her colleagues here to keep up or risk being left behind. “Countries like Singapore and the United Arab Emirates have triggered a lot of investment in this area where they want to be growing more produce locally. Going under cover and upwards is the only option.”

In Europe, the continent’s largest farm is being built outside Copenhagen by start-up company Nordic Harvest in a 7000sqm facility growing plants stacked 14 layers high. The operators claim the facility will use 250 times less water and occupy 250 times less space than the equivalent outdoor grown crop. Scotland-based firm Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) is developing vertical farming systems that may ultimately be found in New Zealand.

The company made its first appearance at the Fieldays in 2021, winning the Fieldays Innovation Award in the growth and scale category, and is now discussing opportunities here. CEO David Farquhar says on its own vertical farming will not solve the world’s hunger or climate change challenges but could ultimately provide up to 30% of the world’s diet for vegetables and fruits.

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