"Our current farm's capacity is maxed out, and there's an increasing demand for our produce: we are able to sell more berries and other crops than we can produce. This expansion aims to cater to existing and potential partners. Depending on the space allocated for each crop, we can optimize production costs. Generally, increased efficiency and space lead to reduced costs. However, our focus is quality and meeting demand rather than monopolizing the market," says Geert Liezenga, Founder of Varmers, a vertical farm in Thailand.
Varmers is now trying to make this viable by producing different crops for supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels. Varmers partners up with customers and grows crops for them, like herbs, microgreens, leafy greens, and soft fruits.
"It is quite difficult to grow the best shape, taste, color, and size strawberries each and every time. The difficulty and risk are much lower with the other crops. We put the seeds in based on when we need the harvest. For example, if we plant seeds for Italian Basil today, then we know that in three weeks and two days, we can harvest the exact amount we need. By doing this efficiently, we can 'Grow to Demand,'" Geert affirms.
The Bangkok-based farm is designed as a proof of concept, spanning over about 100 m2 and reaching a height of 10 meters. So far, the team built this farm with investors, mainly friends and family. The current revenue is higher than the monthly costs, but Varmers anticipates looking for additional investment in the coming years. "We're always open to discussions with potential stakeholders."
As vertical farming is relatively non-existent, so awareness is number one. The farm's location on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok is not without reason, with its open facade, it serves dual purposes: optimal farming and public engagement.
So why Bangkok?
According to Geert, traditional outdoor farms, especially in the North, are seasonal. The Thai environment poses challenges for soft fruits, including intense heat, droughts, pests, and chemical exposure. Moreover, strawberries are often harvested before peak ripeness to account for transportation durations.
"However, our berries are shipped to customers within 30 minutes of harvest, ensuring freshness. Our main concern arises when contaminants like aphids or mites are introduced into our controlled environment. To address these, we employ natural solutions, such as nettle tea or predatory mites."
As Geert sees it, strawberries are an exotic product in Thailand. That is also why we started with strawberries: they are rare. It is as if you would buy Dragon Fruit in Europe. "Ours are being sold for about half of what you would pay for Japanese or Korean imported strawberries and double what you would pay for seasonal North Thai strawberries. Our other crops are being sold for about half of what is currently charged in supermarkets, yet fresher, cleaner, healthier, and much more tasty."
Vertical Farming as a Service
Varmers has opened its doors to schools and universities for free tours, traineeships, etc., and while its main focus remains on cultivation, the team recognizes the wider potential. Having launched the 'Vertical Farming as a Service' initiative, offering their expertise to external partners.
"We aim to broaden the reach of vertical farming throughout Thailand. This is not our core business, but we are aware that others need to jump this train to be able to even remotely get to feeding 71 million Thai people."