In the largest vertical farm in Europe
Food tech startup Nordic Harvest is building a huge vertical farm that shows how moving agriculture indoors can allow us to produce better crops on less land.
“[The plant] gets exactly the amount of nutrients, water, light and CO2 it needs, ”the company told photographer Alastair Philip Wiper. “You could call it a plant paradise. “
The challenge: People have been farming for about 12,000 years, and although a lot has changed since our ancestors started sowing seeds, a lot has not changed: most farming still takes place in the country. outdoor, with plants grown in the ground and dependent on the sun for light.
This necessarily wastes a lot of water, as some will evaporate or drain off the plants before they can be absorbed. It also requires the use of pesticides and fertilizers that can leak into the environment.
Down on the vertical farm: About 20 years ago, a Columbia University professor came up with the idea of growing crops inside skyscrapers, using artificial light and closed water systems.
Because crops could be grown in layers, these “vertical farms” or “plant factories” would allow us to dramatically increase the amount of food we could produce on a piece of land. We also wouldn’t have to worry about pests or less than ideal weather conditions indoors.
The obstacles : Today there are vertical farms across the world, but one thing holding back the concept has been the cost: it is much cheaper to rely on sun and rain for light and water than to supply power. LEDs and hydroponic systems.
Additionally, if the electricity for the vertical farm comes from fossil fuels, it may contribute to the problem of climate change, rather than help solve it.
The plant plant: In December, Danish start-up Nordic Harvest completed the first phase of construction of what will be Europe’s largest – and most efficient – vertical farm just outside of Copenhagen.
The plants grow in 14 stacked layers, in a 75,000 square foot warehouse-like facility, using technology developed by the YesHealth Group of Taiwan. This technology includes advanced hydroponic systems, smart software and autonomous robots, all of which help keep costs down.
The vertical farm uses 250 times less water and 250 times less space to grow the same amount of crops.
“Many vertical farms around the world will never be profitable,” Anders Riemann, CEO of Nordic Harvest, told Xinhua. “But I also understand that the best way to make a profit is to automate the workflow and that consumers are willing to pay a higher price for a better product.”
All of the facility’s electricity comes from wind turbines, which helps minimize its environmental footprint.
The annual harvest: Nordic Harvest currently produces around 275 tonnes of leafy vegetables and herbs on its vertical farm, on an annual basis, using 250 times less water and 250 times less space than a traditional farm would need.
These plants are packaged for sale within 10 minutes of harvest, and the whole process is automated – human hands never touch the crops.
Nordic Harvest vegetables are on sale in Danish supermarkets for about the same price as organic greens, and the company predicted in December that they would be profitable in 2021.
Looking forward: The company expects its vertical farm to reach full capacity by the end of 2021. At this point, it will produce around four times more than it currently does (around 1,100 tonnes of crops per year). ) on an area the size of a “big football field,” Riemann said.
“This means that with just 20 production sites, all of Denmark’s annual consumption could be covered on an area equivalent to 20 football fields,” he added.
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