Scotland is set to have its first commercially viable vertical farm up and running by the autumn, it has been announced.
The new facility is being built at the James Hutton Institute near Dundee, allowing for a full-scale trial of various crops through a collaboration between Scotland-based vertical farming business Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) and global automation firm Omron.
Herbs and various kinds of salad will be the first crops trialled, followed by tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries at a later stage. The plants will be grown in vertically stacked layers using LED lighting and hydroponics.
One of the main aims of the project will be to make vertical farming commercially viable by reducing power and labour costs through sustainable-growing practices and automation.
In addition, the James Hutton Institute and IGS will look to establish a better understanding of the plant science involved in vertical farming and the types of crops that can be grown best in an indoor environment.
CEO of IGS Henry Aykroyd said: “Vertical farming allows us to provide the exact environmental conditions necessary for optimal plant growth.
“By adopting the principles of Total Controlled Environment Agriculture (TCEA), a system in which all aspects of the growing environment can be controlled, it is possible to eliminate variations in the growing environment, enabling the grower to produce consistent, high quality crops with minimal wastage, in any location, all year round.”
Professor Colin Campbell, CEO at the James Hutton Institute, added: “This initiative combines our world-leading knowledge of plant science at the James Hutton Institute and IGS’ entrepreneurship to develop efficient ways of growing plants on a small footprint with low energy and water input.”
After forming collaborations with the James Hutton Institute to provide agricultural expertise, IGS approached Omron to consult on the automation side of the project, which it said is “critical for the efficiency and productivity of the project at every level”.
The automation and control systems provider is well established in the medical equipment sector, and has been involved in the development and introduction of the world’s first automated traffic signal, magnetic card systems, the digital blood pressure monitor and the digital thermometer.
Initially, the stacking system, LED lighting and hydroponics systems will all be automated and in future, automation could control every feature in the facility, making it important for the growing operation to be as scalable and flexible as possible.
“A highly integrated automation strategy, patented energy reduction technology and the most advanced biological research available will be the three key pillars to success in this project,” said Aykroyd.