In order to understand vertical farming better, we spoke to Intelligent Growth Solutions, a Scottish based supplier of vertical farming technology, and Dr Rob Hancock of the James Hutton Institute who has done some research on vertical farming.
Vertical farming (VF), as Rob noted, is very much in its early stages of development. Given that VFs rely completely on indoor electrical lighting (as opposed to sunlight), a massive amount of energy is required in order to grow the crops. With the current state of renewable energy in Scotland, this means a significant amount of fossil fuels are still needed to power VFs. Rob also pointed out that for every calorie of carbohydrate in a crop, an equivalent ‘calorie’ of light energy is needed to produce this. Coupled with the fact that many plants take longer to mature, the energy cost for lighting starts to add up.
Furthermore, the ‘architecture’ (shape, size, etc.) of a plant is important as this determines how densely a crop can be grown and thus how economical it is. Perhaps, this explains why so far, most crops produced in VFs (e.g. herbs, leafy greens, and micro-greens) haven’t been protein or carbohydrate rich. Yet, due to their small size (meaning they can be grown densely) and high monetary value, these crops remain economical to grow despite the high running costs of a VF.
When you also consider using stock-free inputs in a VF, the process becomes much more complicated. Currently, VFs rely on mineral fertilisers and while these can still be used in a stock-free system, it remains problematic to rely so heavily on them because they are a finite resource and their production is fossil fuel intensive. Still, mineral fertilisers can be easily combined into nutrient mixes at very precise concentrations, therefore allowing a crop’s growth to be tailored to your needs. For example, having a specific composition of nutrients may cause the crop to grow extra-large leaves, or have a particular flavour. However, since stock-free inputs are usually produced at or close to the site (leguminous green manures, chipped branch wood, seaweed meal, etc.) and typically require biological soil processes to make the nutrients available to the plant, applying these to a soil-less VF would be highly complex and hasn’t been tried yet to our knowledge. Alternatively, bought in stock-free fertilisers are still hard to come by and are less preferable because they are ultimately taking fertility from land elsewhere. Rob suggested that anaerobic digestion could make stock-free inputs useable for a hydroponic (nutrients are fed to crops in a liquid form) VF system, but the balance of nutrients in the resulting digestate would be hard to control.
With time VF will improve, becoming more energy efficient, sustainable and expanding its range of economical crops. For now, though, VF isn’t well suited to stock-free growing and would be a risky endeavour for a stock-free farmer to break into given the high start-up costs.
Intelligent Growth Solutions is a Scottish supplier of vertical farming technology. They supply modular units tailored to fit the size of the building or the site. They have produced an introductory guide to vertical farming for those interested in learning more, or you can contact them to explore your options.
LettUs Grow uses aeroponic systems for indoor growing. Aeroponics has a 70% increase in growth rate over hydroponics, needs no pesticides, uses 95% less water than traditional agriculture, and can be set up anywhere in the world! Their Modular Aeroponic Farm can be placed in a barn or any underused indoor space.
Vertical Future specialises in building or repurposes buildings for high-tech, automated farming systems.
Crate to Plate uses repurposed shipping containers to grow year-round spinach, kale, lettuce, herbs and microgreens. They are looking for more places to put their containers.
Green Grow in Moray grows mushrooms and mycelium in refurbished shipping containers using waste coffee grounds as the growing medium. They use waste heat from a well-known Speyside distillery to create the microclimate for growing! Green Grow has a few more refurbished containers and provide training for anyone wishing to give this a try.
Storage Space Rental
Renting the Space
Barns and outbuildings can be repurposed for ceilidhs, concerts, exercise classes or workshops
GG’s Yard is a stunning example of a Scottish rural wedding venue!
Farm buildings can work great when repurposed to become meeting venues, regardless of whether the building is big or small. At Tombreck, the Big Shed facility is a great space for local community groups and one-off private and public events.
Photo: The Big Shed, Tombreck
Children’s Holiday Club
An old barn could be revamped for a number of different indoor children’s activities such as a games hall, arts and crafts space, adventure/trampoline/inflatable park, climbing centre, and much more.
Photo: Heads of Ayr Farm Park
Established in 2018, The Wee Farm Distillery is a micro distillery in South Lanarkshire which produces Drover’s Gin.
Pet Boarding Facilities
Farm buildings can be transformed into accommodation for a variety of pets, whose owners need them to be looked after for a day or longer. Enclosed outdoor areas also make a great addition to the animals’ stay and may be a necessity depending on the animal.
Photo: Birdston Luxury Kennels
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