Growing in a vertical farm is relatively straight forward. We know that producing quality crops consistently is possible and it’s a matter of learning and in some cases perseverance and creative thinking.
Selling your produce to a marketplace sustainably and for a profit is the challenge with vertical farming. This is very much the focus of the TechTyfu project and as we see growers starting to learn their trade with various vertical farming designs, we will increasingly be shifting our focus to developing the local supply chains.
With this in mind, here are 5 key thoughts we need to bear in mind whilst trying to unlock the potential of vertical farming in Gwynedd and Anglesey.
- Doing our research
This is going to be an essential step for any vertical farmer who wants to establish a successful business. Conducting thorough market research to identify gaps in the market will let you know the direction your vertical farm should go in, who your customers are and what their needs are? Ways of doing this can include engaging with and listening to experienced operators in the supply chain, reading exhaustively about the fresh produce trade, observing trends, conducting surveys, maintaining an open mindset and keep looking for opportunities to “replicate and duplicate” smart ideas seen working in other places or even other countries.
- Understand what the market wants and grow it.
Many growers are understandably tempted to grow the produce they like or have had success with, regardless of whether the market likes it or not. It’s human nature. If a restaurant wants uniformed, trimmed and cleaned kale then it is unlikely they will be interested in a supply of full kale stems. A chef may want his/her pea shoots between 2.5” and 3” long, not shorter, nor longer. Understanding what the market wants and is prepared to pay for is vital intelligence. We need to be ready to respond to market needs and this requires discipline – if you can’t sell it, don’t grow it.
- Building long-term relationships.
Identifying your target audience will be key in your approach to reaching the market. Knowing who your customers are will help you match products to meet their needs. Successful vertical farming is not just about growing. You must be prepared to spend time building positive relationships within the supply chain. Restaurants, hotels, shops, distributors, suppliers and fellow growers are all key partners for a vertical farm. Collaborating with these businesses is a brilliant way of not only reaching the market but developing your brand through sustainable long-term partnerships.
- Solving logistics.
In addition to growing the produce the market demands, an equally important link in the chain is to know how you will deliver your goods to the customer. Identifying who your customers are and what their delivery requirements are will help to create your distribution plan. If you’re selling direct to restaurants and hotels then you ideally want to be located nearby to save travelling time. Alternatively, could you distribute your goods through a wholesaler or a distribution agent, and by doing so gaining volume and efficiency? There are pros and cons to all options, and the sooner this aspect is considered the better. Failing to come up with a sustainable method of delivering has been the downfall of many similar efforts in the past.
Without clear and concise communication in place, reaching the market becomes more challenging. Regular communication between suppliers, distributors and customers is essential so that everyone understands what is going on. This is invaluable when you may encounter a problem and may not be able to satisfy an order. Communicate regularly and openly with customers and they will understand and adapt accordingly. Oftentimes this strengthens the relationship between the grower and customers.
We could carry on listing considerations, and we’re sure there are many different opinions out there on what the “top 5” should be. However, the main message is that to make vertical farming work in Gwynedd and Anglesey, we need to crack the whole supply chain, not just the growing.