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"Vertical farming isn't an expensive dream, but rather an innovative addition to what already exists"

In the Flemish urban landscape, horticulture, industry, recreation, nature, and urbanization compete for precious space, making the establishment of greenhouse horticulture businesses challenging in both urban or industrial areas and in the countryside. The current area must be better utilized by increasing spatial efficiency. Maarten Ameye, research leader of protected horticulture at Inagro, believes in vertical farming: "Focusing on growing upwards and utilizing space for multiple purposes can promote the integration of food production in cities and urbanized areas, where space is limited."

Vertical farming, a rapidly developing sector
"Vertical farming or vertical horticulture is an innovative method of growing in vertically stacked layers, often in controlled indoor environments," clarifies Maarten Ameye. This type of horticulture aims to maximize yield per square meter and make better use of space. "Today, many farmers and horticulturists still question vertical farming. However, we believe that vertical farming can make agriculture more sustainable, and we should not view the system as an expensive fantasy."

"We believe in the benefits of vertical farming"
The new cultivation technique can provide a solution in urban areas where horticultural land or space for greenhouse businesses is scarce. "Another important advantage of vertical farming is the stable climate. The closed space can be completely controlled, making you less dependent on the weather or seasons. Due to the closed system, there is also less need for pesticides. Since vertical farming often uses hydroponics, water consumption can also be significantly reduced," explains Maarten Ameye.

However, Inagro notices in the media that there are also some negative reports about vertical farming. Worldwide, there have been several bankruptcies of vertical farms in recent months. Maarten acknowledges that there are indeed challenges to vertical farming: "The system does require high initial investment costs. Adapted LED lighting, climate control, irrigation systems, etc., are needed to set up the vertical farm. Once the system is operational, you must take into account high energy consumption and thus high energy costs." In the trials that happen in the vertical farm, data on energy consumption and yields achieved will always be kept. In this way, we do not lose sight of the economic aspect. Despite the disadvantages, vertical farming still has a lot of potential.

Maarten Ameye: "Especially if we see the technique as a valuable addition to the various cultivation technologies that already exist. With several new studies, projects, and collaborations, we at Inagro want to gain knowledge within vertical farming."

Infrastructure must enable innovative research
Inagro already has two indoor vertical farms. Because the systems are completely isolated from the outside world, all growth factors (climate, light, water, nutrition) can be adjusted. "Since 2022, we have also been experimenting with the cultivation of leek seedlings in a closed multi-layered cultivation system. In addition, the PlantGoed project recently started, in which we want to investigate whether year-round plant and soft fruit production can be realized by cultivating the plants in a closed cultivation system."

"In 2024, together with Urban Crop Solutions, we will build an innovative vertical cultivation installation in the facade greenhouse of Agrotopia. The vertical cultivation system will consist of three towers of 10 meters with 18 moving tables per tower. This new cultivation system explores multi-layered space use in the greenhouse and is designed to maximize the benefits of natural sunlight. To add extra light if necessary, the towers are equipped with dynamic lighting. The plant development can be influenced by adjusting the light spectrum of the LED lighting. Thus, the benefits of a greenhouse are combined with the precision of a closed system, resulting in an innovative and sustainable cultivation environment with maximum flexibility."

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

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