WELSH STRAWBERRY PROJECT
Agri SGJ are collaborating with Digital Farming with the help of the SMART Cymru Scheme to use vertical farming for growing strawberries all year round.
Hydroponic methods entail the soilless cultivation of plants in a water based, nutrient rich solution. Strawberries have been grown hydroponically in the past for both research and commercial purposes. However, indoor systems have not yet been fully explored for commercial use. Historically, the major challenges of hydroponic systems have been its high investment cost and the requirement for specialised expertise in order to create optimal conditions for plant growth. This study is aiming to assess the feasibility of an indoor vertical strawberry farm in a totally controlled environment.
The primary obstacle to growing strawberries under standard agricultural methods is the limited growing period. Winter is not a favourable time for strawberries to grow.
Growers have managed to extend the growing season using fleece for crop protection and growing in polytunnels and glasshouses.
However, the UK yield is still unable to cover the constantly increasing demands for strawberries all year round. Imports from Europe and North Africa are used to boost the domestic production during summer times, while during winter only imported strawberries are available.
The development of a growing solution which could provide guaranteed high quality strawberries would contribute toward a self-sufficient UK, especially post Brexit.
Together Digital Farming and Agri SGJ have a vision of implementing functioning indoor vertical farms that are compatible with any building even ex-industrial ones. Re-purposing buildings for vertical farms would help result in a better utilisation of land for crops by growing in areas that otherwise could not be grown in.
Employment opportunities can be developed, as the indoor farms would not only be located at particularly isolated areas of the country, but potentially close to a city where the areas usually suffer from high unemployment. People can be trained in such organisations and research can be undertaken. Vertical farms have the potential to offer innovative community projects involving both youth and elderly people.