UK innovation centre to help boost produce grown on Europe’s largest vertical farm

As the increasing cost of living affects more households across Britain, people are paying more attention to where they get their basic everyday items from, especially what they eat.

Driven by high energy prices, the UK’s soaring inflation has hit the cost of food and efforts to decrease the reliance on imports are more important than ever.

At a new specialist centre in England, state-of-the-art technology is boosting existing vertical farming practices, to help end the need for the UK to import soft fruits, herbs and cut flowers within the next 10 years.

Launched in June, the Innovation Centre in Bristol is the latest venture by British farming enterprise, Jones Food Company (JFC), owners of Europe’s largest vertical farm based in the UK.

Vertical farming has become increasingly popular in recent years as countries grapple with climate change conditions such as drought or flooding that risk food security.

Upending traditional agricultural methods, vegetables are grown on compact stacked towers using artificially controlled light, temperature, humidity and gases.

Market research experts say the industry reached a value of $3.66 billion in 2021 and it is expected to boom in the coming decade.

No soil is used at all in the process, reducing the need for pesticides and other chemicals to protect plants.

By removing nature’s troublesome variables and the problems of limited land space, vertical farming allows for more controlled and sustainable environments to grow food in.

It also uses 95 per cent less water than regular farming methods.

Crucially, it can be done anywhere.

JFC’s founder says its new venture is “at the very vanguard” of responding to increasing global concerns around climate change and sustainability

“We will now be able to test, trial and adapt quickly, and I’m sure the learnings here will pave the way for not only the future of UK vertical farming, but the future of UK farming,” said JFC chief executive James Lloyd-Jones.

“It’s clear from what we’ve achieved and are planning that, within the next 10 years, the UK could be in a position where we no longer have to fly-in soft fruits and herbs from southern Europe, North Africa, the Caribbean or anywhere else.”

JFC was founded by Mr Lloyd-Jones in 2017 and opened its first complex in Lincolnshire, known as JFC1, a year later. The innovation-led vertical farming business secured backing from The Ocado Group in 2019 and is in the process of building a new multimillion pound farm in Gloucestershire.

Set over 148,000 square feet of growing space ― equal to 96 tennis courts stacked in vertical layers ― the new farm, dubbed JFC2, will “comfortably” be the world’s largest vertical farm.

The research and development team will closely study the growing requirements of various plant varieties as the business evolves the produce range from the leafy greens currently grown at the original JFC1 site.

The Bristol-based centre will act as a test bed for a more diversified produce range the company hopes to grow at JFC2, once completed.

JFC says it already supplies 30 per cent of the UK’s fresh cut basil to thousands of stores each week and believes it can grow soft fruits, flowers, vegetables and even vines on a commercially viable scale in the coming years.

The company’s executives says the ultimate aim is to make vertical farming the main supplier for the UK’s fresh food.

“We already know we can grow products other than leafy greens, from mushrooms to blackberries to tulips, but our task through this new facility is to push the speed of growth to work on a commercial scale,” says Glynn Stephens, JFC’s head of growing.

“We want consumers to be able to pick up vertically grown peppers, tomatoes or berries at their local retailer, and know that the product is sustainable and hasn’t had to travel hundreds of miles to get to their plate.”

Source: The National

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