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Building the Vertical Farming Industry from the Bottom Up.

Perhaps the most timely and innovative development in Wales’ controlled environment agriculture (CEA) space is Vertikit, which is a new, one-stop shop for those looking to enter the world of vertical farming and CEA. Tech Tyfu has recently hosted a presentation from Dr William Stiles, the Director of Vertikit and lecturer on the Aberystwyth University BioInnovation Wales course, who had the chance to meet and talk to our growers at our Innovation Hub in M-Sparc.

Vertikit have a vision, believing that anyone can build their own vertical farm. Aiming to give growers across the industry access to new technology, alike the technology which is used in major grow houses across the country, curating and translating such equipment options, and showcasing the latest technology as it emerges. Like Tech Tyfu, this is based on an approach that builds the UK CEA industry from the bottom upwards, developing supply chains and R&D along the way with a lower risk and higher likelihood of success.

The team at Vertikit comprises of scientists and industrial professionals who possess a variety of well-equipped skills across horticultural science. Working extensively alongside growers and manufacturers within the growing vertical farming and CEA industry, in terms of research and support capacities, and understanding the challenges and potential opportunities that are there to develop this sector of plant production.

Vertikit hopes that by bringing the best technology together into a one-stop shop for vertical farming and CEA, they can help to develop the industry at a rapid pace, helping you, the growers to grow crops in every sense.

Here at Tech Tyfu, our team and growers are currently embarking on the launch of our Scaleup Project, where we are inviting applications from individuals and groups to propose their own ideas to build vertical farming infrastructure. We will be utilising as much as possible the resource provided by Vertikit to help us achieve this, building on the successes of our growers we have been supporting trial vertical farming technology over the last two years.

The aim of the Scaleup Project is to create self-sustaining food supply chains, for fresh, vertically farmed produce. In turn, this will develop longer-term economic benefits for the Welsh agri-food industry. The upscaled production of vertically farmed produce within the region will make the industry more economically viable for those within it, whilst also attracting investment from a range of stakeholders, such as retailers and hospitality businesses. Globally, vertical farming is estimated to reach over £9.16 billion globally by 2026, with the demand for organic food expected to increase rapidly over that period.

The project hopes to stimulate the well-being of North Wales’ future generations, by working together as a community, to bring the environmental and economic benefits of vertical farming to the forefront of our food supply chains. Tech Tyfu Scaleup will embed vertical farming into the economy, using innovative ideas and novel vertical farming methods. Such growing techniques can help create local culinary gems, which can champion Welsh food produce. This will help create a sense of place for locals and tourists, through a sustainable, local food supply chain.

To visit the services provided by Vertikit, please visit their website @ http://www.vertikit.co.uk

UK Food Supply Chains and Controlled Environment Agriculture.


“Cnoi cil” gyda #TechTyfu “Food for Thought” – This month, our bulletin looks at UK food supply chains and how controlled environment agriculture (CEA) could help cope with supply and demand of fresh produce.

UK supply chains.

The procurement of goods in the UK has been under pressure across most sectors. Reasons for this stem from the adaptation to the Brexit deal and the ongoing Covid pandemic. Such pressures to procurement strategies have resulted in issues in the UK supply chains, with shortfalls in products throughout the summer of 2021. The matter has been escalated by empty supermarket shelves, fuel shortages and consumer panic buying.

News channels have reported food being left on farms, unable to be picked up from haulage companies. The issues in the UK is down to staff shortages. According to the Chief Executive of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, the food supply chain in the UK is down 12.5% of the staff needed to keep the flow of produce running.

The haulage sector is one of the key industries within the UK supply chains which is suffering from the shortage of staff. There have been shortfall estimates of up to 100,000 drivers, after the Brexit process in the UK. Many have pinpointed the blame of this shortage to drivers choosing to avoid the UK due to Brexit and Covid.

However, elsewhere in the EU, countries have experienced similar issues. Germany and Poland have seen staff shortages which cannot be blamed on the UK leaving the EU. Mr Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, stated that Covid was the main reason for the shortfall of staffing in the UK food supply chains. With issues such as the closure of the French border in December 2020 being one of the many possible reasons at the forefront of this discussion, in terms of the impact Covid has had on supply chains.

There needs to be a stronger working connection between the UK and the EU. However, businesses may have to start procuring produce close to home, locally, aiming to prevent food supply chains from continuing to fail to keep up with the demand of consumers.

Supply Chains and CEA

It is clear that food supply chains are under pressure. For most of the produce which fills the shelves in the UK supermarkets, it originates from conventional agricultural methods. However, with produce being left on farms through staff shortages in the supply chain. The current supply chain is failing.

Our farming methods and supply chains are also hurting the environment. The problems that supply chains are coming up against in recent times are escalating the agricultural and environmental issues. For instance, produce travels long distances to reach the consumer. On top of this, transportation of fresh produce saps the nutrients, before arriving at the end destination in the supply chain. Vegetables also pass through many different hands, which in the wake of the pandemic, poses a threat to the welfare of workers and consumers.

There is a need to shorten the food supply chain. One way this could be done is through controlled environment agriculture (CEA), often referred to as vertical farming. For the most part, vertical farming has become much more popular over the recent decade throughout urban settings. Vertical farming is a process where crops are grown indoors in a controlled environment. CEA offers the opportunity for a transparent and safer food supply chain, which can also be shorter and more local to the point at which produce is consumed. This is largely down to CEA’s ability to allow farmers to grow produce all year around, with higher crop yields in urban and rural locations. With the scale-up of vertical farming, the UK’s dependence on the EU supply chains can be reduced.

Many businesses use Just In Time supply chains (Garnett, Doherty & Heron, 2020), when it comes to ordering fruit and vegetables. This is to ensure that the produce on the shelves is fresh for consumers. Just In Time supply chains are proving to be unsustainable in the current economic climate, and new horticultural methods are needed to compliment the UK food supply chains. CEA is an option which needs to be heavily invested in by businesses, growers, and farmers, to shorten food supply chains, keeping fresh produce on supermarket shelves, and making our supply chains more resilient.

The traditional procurement methods for produce in the UK needs to change. Otherwise, there is likely to be a continued shortage in the supply chain, due to issues such as the lack of heavy goods drivers in the haulage industry. Traditional methods do not need to be eliminated from the conversation, but the integration of vertical farming can help grow more produce throughout the UK, in urban and rural areas.