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Multilayer cultivation installation aims to propel vertical horticulture

Inagro aims to increase space efficiency within agriculture and horticulture and, therefore, researches this matter. For their research, they use a vertical cultivation installation that's designed by Urban Crop Solutions. This 12-meter-high façade greenhouse is used for this research to propel the vertical horticulture sector.

In 2021, Inagro opened Agrotopia, a research and demonstration rooftop greenhouse. The greenhouse is located on top of REO Auctions' crate warehouse in Roeselare. With a size of 6000 m², Agrotopia is one of the largest rooftop greenhouses in Europe. The research within Agrotopia strongly emphasizes the development of future-proof cultivation techniques, such as hydroponics and vertical horticulture. To realize a vertical multi-layer cultivation system, Inagro has reserved space in the 12-meter high facade greenhouse. The design and implementation of the cultivation system have been outsourced to Urban Crop Solutions through a tender.

The installation is expected to be ready for usage by the end of 2024, as its construction starts in the first quarter of 2024. The realization is supported by the VLAIO's PIO program as well as by the province of West Flanders.

Combination of advanced indoor farming technology and practical research and cultivation knowledge
This collaboration of Urban Crop Solutions and Inagro combines advanced indoor farming technology with research and cultivation knowledge. Jean-Pierre Coene, CEO of Urban Crop Solutions, says: "We are excited to work on this project with Inagro. Our joint goal is to push the limits and promote sustainable horticulture. This collaboration confirms our commitment to advanced technologies, flexibility, and the integration of indoor farming within the natural environment of greenhouses".

Bart Naeyaert, deputy of the province of West Flanders in Belgium, says: "This collaboration is a perfect example of how the public and private sector can strengthen each other. Together, we can provide innovative solutions that elevate agriculture and horticulture in terms of sustainability and productivity".

The vertical cultivation system consists of three 10-meter towers with each tower having 18 moving tables. Space optimization is increased thanks to the ability to grow on different layers. This technique is mainly used in a closed system, where environmental factors can be controlled. This comes in conjunction with high energy costs. This new cultivation system has multiple layers and is designed to maximally benefit from natural sunlight. If extra lighting is necessary this can be added through the towers' dynamic lighting. In addition, there is the possibility of influencing plant development by adjusting the light spectrum of LEDs. In other words, the advantages of a greenhouse are combined with the precision of a closed system.

Current and future research on greenhouse horticulture
Agrotopia consists of 13 different departments that are equipped with hydroponics (mobile gutter system, floating cultivation) and fruit vegetables (substrate mats). Maarten Ameye (research leader of protected cropping at Inagro) explains that the new vertical cultivation system initially focuses on leafy vegetables, strawberries, sprouts, and micro-greens. He says: "We specifically focus on the crops that are important to horti growers and stakeholders. Current knowledge and insights are used to further innovate and sustain today's horticulture.

After validation, the systems can be used as a test platform for technology developers and knowledge institutions. Together with growers, the concept of high vertical cultivation can be further developed and utilized.

From left to right: Jean-Pierre Coene (Urban Crop Solutions), Maarten Vandecruys (Urban Crop Solutions), Bart Naeyaert (province of West Flanders), Mia Demeulemeester (Inagro vzw), and Maarten Ameye (Inagro vzw).

Maarten Ameye explains: "Apart from a few experiments, the use of such an innovative multi-layer cultivation installation is almost non-existent today. Therefore, the system requires additional research regarding climate conditioning, irrigation, inspection and control of plant material, and ease of use. We have included these aspects in our joint research. Our research partner includes the existing Agrotopia chair so that we can ensure the academic level of our research."

Strategy for greenhouse horticulture in urbanized Flanders
In urbanized Flanders, horticulture, industry, recreation, nature, and urbanization compete for precious space. This makes the establishment of horticulture companies challenging in both urbanized and industrial areas as well as in rural areas. The spatial efficiency of the current space should increase. This can be done through a focus on vertical cultivation and multiple space usage, as this promotes the integration of food production in the limited space of cities and urbanized areas. This concept also attracts a lot of international interest.

For more information:
Ieperseweg 87
8800 Rumbeke-Beitem
Tel.: 051 27 32 00
[email protected]

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