"For food production in the UK to become more sustainable, vertical farming needs to be put on a level playing field with traditional farming. Vertical farms operate in line with many of the Government’s major policy objectives to make farming better for the environment and boost green jobs and investment in the agricultural sector," says Kate Hofman, Founder of GrowUp Farms, a vertical farming company from Kent, the UK.
Sharing insights on the current state of the vertical farming industry in the UK, Kate elaborates on how this farming practice can be supported to make the nation’s food supply chain more sustainable.
Next big steps to improve food production
Magnifying on the matter, Kate highlights that Under the 'Sustainable Farming Incentive' in Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), farmers are paid to improve their farming practices and reduce pre-existing problems to deliver the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan, which includes setting goals to use less water, less nitrogen, producing less waste and with zero agricultural runoff and no pesticides.
Vertical farming can help enable the UK to meet its environmental goals much more quickly, however, Kate doesn't see currently any way for vertical farms to access government support for delivering these environmental benefits.
"If vertical farming continues to be treated as an emerging technology, we are missing a vital opportunity to grow the industry, create a sustainable and long-lasting supply chain, and deliver the outcomes laid out in the Government’s 25-year environmental plan. The extension of ELMS to include vertical farming would create a level playing field for more farming techniques that produce high-quality food and take care of the environment," she urges.
"There is a rising demand from consumers to buy from food brands that prioritize sustainability and produce longer-lasting locally-grown food that helps reduce waste and cut supply chains significantly. The vertical farming industry is dedicated to accelerating resource efficiency and the sustainability of producing food indoors. GrowUp Farms has recently been awarded grant funding by Growing Kent and Medway to trial a new wastewater recovery technology, which aims to reduce our water use even further," says Kate.
On top of that, Kate sees a collective push to standardize the way vertical farming companies speak about their claims of positive impacts on the environment and society. There is an international effort to improve benchmarking and standardization in the industry, and GrowUp Farms is proud to be working with the Resource Innovation Institute on this.
The opening of the Kent facility
Scaling up production
Earlier this year, UK supermarkets were hit with shortages of salad vegetables due to the impact of climate change and over-reliance on overseas imports, the UK imports 90% of its lettuces in winter. In addition, UK greenhouse growers have faced soaring production costs and energy prices.
To mitigate the ever-growing number, GrowUp Farms is scaling up its production to fill these gaps on the supermarket shelves. Recently the company has been given the green light to expand its farm in Kent. The expanded facility will allow GrowUp to scale up the growing and harvesting of bagged salads to supply more supermarkets and look at growing other crops.
As we all know, energy is needed to maintain optimal conditions in vertical farming facilities by powering systems. As Kate points out, when you're relying on electrical energy alone, the costs can be a barrier to the success of vertical farms. It ultimately impacts their carbon footprint and increased operating expenses, especially during the recent energy crisis. Vertical farmers can overcome this by powering their facilities with renewable energy.
"Our farm in Sandwich, Kent, is an example of using renewable energy to produce fresh salad all year round. The facility has a unique business model where it takes renewable heat and power from a bioenergy plant that is also located at Discovery Park. This has not only helped us to become more sustainable but also means we aren’t at the mercy of rising energy prices that are squeezing so many other farmers in the UK."
Another big win would be the co-location of your facility. Located at Discovery Park, which according to Kate, is seen as 'one of Europe’s leading science and technology parks', gives GrowUp Farms a strong local talent pool. In addition, the park’s road and rail transport links to the rest of the UK have enabled GrowUp Farms to build a robust and reliable supply chain.