"Being able to follow the fluctuating product demand, it's great to have a variety of produce that's affordable and viable in different seasons. For growers, it's a great benefit to fill seasonality gaps with a product, and once it's saturated, they can move on to the next main crop. We just need to adjust the light spectrum and various parameters in order to set up the needs of what crops you want to produce. With this approach, we can increase yield and decrease the growth cycles of different varieties in order to obtain economic feasibility of the crops," says Endre Harnes, Chief commercial officer at Avisomo, a Norwegian supplier of growing systems.
Martin Molenaar and Endre Harnes in front of a demo version of the Growth Station at Katapult Future Fest, an event in Oslo they partnered up with in June
A non-rigid system
The main reason behind the flexibility of the system is that it's not rigid. If you have a fixed system, the irrigation, pipes, and lights are fixed, meaning you'd have to remove everything when swapping crops and reassemble everything back once it's all set.
"We just have to change the height of the trays, the height of the water funnels, and the lights. We have no piping in the trays, but an extended part of the system takes care of that. If you want to grow hops, for instance, you just remove the various layers, add the right (side) lighting configuration and start from the ground up."
Hops, strawberries, lettuce, mushrooms, and tomatoes (Click here to zoom in)
Flexibility of the system
In the past few months, the Avisomo team has trialed growing hops and cucumbers in their Growth Stations - and the recipes for these crops will soon be available to growers worldwide. With the help of modularity and the restricted size of their Station modules, they have created an approach that simplifies reproducing the conditions from an R&D farm to a deployed system. Since they are doing a lot of R&D in the same setup with the stations, there's no difference between the R&D ones and the finalized systems.
"Let's say that when we develop a crop recipe for tomatoes, we can easily deploy them into the existing systems in other places. All our customers have to do is reconfigure the trays, trolleys, irrigation pipes, and lights in the stations, parts that are all plug-and-play. Then you're all set to grow!"
The fixed racks in which the stations will be placed
Optimized plant conditions for every growth stage
According to Endre, Avisomo's custom-built lights can be optimized for each crop in order to obtain the right spectrum in accordance with plants' growth stages. But once the crop is selected, the different stages of the plant growth cycle and recipes are determined, they can be easily switched.
Let's say that with lettuce recipes, growers would start out in the germination chamber, where the seeds are spread out over 15 levels per trolley. After germination, they will move them to propagation, where eventually the seedlings are spaced out in three different trolleys, which brings a total of five trays per trolley.
As the crops are spread out in the same trolleys for propagation and growth, a higher degree of blue light is applied for the crops to remain compact and ensure proper rooting. Once the plants are ready to go onto their next growing cycle, a far-red spectrum will be supplied to boost the biomass. When close to harvest, the final products will be exposed to blue light treatment to increase the vitamin and color contents of the produce.
"In time, we'll have more sophisticated recipes for every crop type. It's really up to the farmer what number of different configurations they want to have. In collaboration with Avisomo, growers will be able to address as many stages of the growth cycle as desired in order to optimize plant growth. With our approach, we also have a higher degree of accessibility and customization compared to other centralized systems. We can build smaller climate cells with different conditions, which allows us to be very flexible. Yet, again, depending on the different products you're growing," Endre elaborates.
A screenshot of the farming system (Click here to zoom in)
Manual or automated: let the farming software guide you through
All crop recipes are visually implemented into the Avisomo Farming Software, the heart, and soul of the plant growth system. Delivered via IOTs, it will tell farm workers exactly what to do and when or where to do it - from seed to harvest. It also notifies employees when a crop is ready for harvest and what needs to be done in order to get it ready. And depending on the farmers' desired level of automation, any kind of farm task can be handled manually or seamlessly automated.
"We are very close to finalizing some large industry projects that are pretty exciting. It's going to be our biggest configuration and deal yet. These projects will be able to showcase the ability of the system," Endre shares excitedly.