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Brazil: How tissue culture techniques can aid vertical farms becoming more efficient

“The industry should look at our sector, which has 30+ years of expertise in multi-layer propagation and cultivation. On top of that, we’ve been able to keep out diseases while using less energy,” says Alewijn Broere, co-founder and director of SBW do Brasil. SBW do Brasil is a company that specializes in the development of various crops and plants using tissue culture. 

“We’ve been growing in bioreactors on layers for over five years now, yet we’re using a fraction of light. Only consume 2000 lux, yet we’re compensating for that by adding high amounts of sugar in the medium as it substitutes sunlight. We are currently working to control the entire production process, using in-house developed technology, to avoid contamination. I like to pose the challenge to see what the possibilities are together.”

Alewijn Broere, seen at the front alongside René Farenhout, Director of R&D and production. 

As Alewijn explains, tissue culture was once developed by Professor Pierik at Wageningen University. As the new method showed a lot of potential for the ever so growing horticulture sector, a group of specialists created the SBW (Stichting Bedrijfslaboratorium voor Weefselkweek) organization in 1976. The objective was to develop protocols for the horticulture industry to make use of these. SBW’s director Alewijn contributed to the development of over 200 protocols, reaching a point where there was no need anymore for a foundation. Therefore, in 2000 SBW was converted into a commercial organization, carrying the name SBW International BV from then on.

In 2006 SBW International started SBW do Brasil. SBW do Brasil’s focus area lies in tissue culture for the crops of fruit and bioenergy. The fruit part applies to the following crops; bananas, blueberries, pineapple, and papaya. The energy crops are eucalyptus, sugarcane, agave, bamboo, and oil palm.

Why tissue culture?
“Tissue culture is a method of propagation under sterile conditions in layer culture with artificial light. In the 1990s, tissue culture left the Netherlands because of high labor costs; tissue culture is labor intensive. First to Eastern European countries (mn Poland) and then to Asia (India and China),” Alewijn elaborates.

In other words, SBW do Brasil has developed a new technique comprising bottles and hoses, plus a new technology that includes air, CO2, and medium to ‘steer’ the plants, called TIB. According to Alewijn, this can reduce labor costs by about 80%. As for now, the cost price of a plant is between 2 and 4 euro cents, whereas conventional tissue culture plants are between 20 and 30 cents.

Papaya seedlings

Cutting out labor costs
“Our TIB technique (Temporary Immersion in Bioreactors) can put European horticulture back on the map. Since the entire tissue culture process can be automated, we can help companies save a lot of labor,” he adds.

Alewijn explains that this makes tissue culture interesting again for expensive labor countries such as the Netherlands. It also offers new opportunities: for example, cuttings are now produced for bedding plants, perennials, and chrysanthemums in Africa. “Without mother plants in Africa, the entire production could take place in TIB, close to the greenhouses (in the Netherlands). No management problems in Africa, no expensive logistics costs; better control and planning, no risks of infections, and more.”

Then you can draw the line with more layers of cultivation for production crops. “The big problem is the cost of energy. Yet, here solutions can be found as well, such as solar energy and capturing it so that layer cultivation also becomes financially interesting.”

Before using automation, SBW do Brasil produce five million plants per year, operated by 64 grafters. Yet, now they’re touching 50 million plants with the help of only 32 grafters. “It’s nothing new technology-wise, yet the problem is that many don’t know how to scale it. That is due to high levels of contamination, which we tackled and solved with our TIB technology. That knowledge can be of very good use to the vertical farming industry to scale up without having contamination issues. We’ve never had the support of others in our research, so we’ve been experimenting a lot ourselves, getting creative to solve the issues we faced.”

How tissue culture can match vertical farming
“Vertical farming and tissue culture is economically very tempting. Using the technique and technology of SBW do Brasil (TIB). The same applies to propagation in vertical farms. As we issue our licensing worldwide to have others implement SBW’s technique and technology, we can help growers achieve efficiency within the blink of an eye.”

Using tissue culture throughout agriculture, horticulture, and floriculture, crops can be produced virus-free so that little to no chemicals need to be used.

For more information:
Alewijn Broere, Director
SBW do Brasil
[email protected]