Saturday, December 2, 2023

Vertical Farming System setup headed for Ashburton

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Mechanised growing system to commence planting in September
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A mechanised growing system with the potential to improve New Zealand’s food production security will be set up in Ashburton by the end of August with planting to commence early September.

The Ashburton system is a Landlogic initiative to showcase what a vertical food production system can do. 

The Vertical Farm Systems (VFS) XA Series is a modular system designed for warehouse installation with plants grown in multilevel trays in climate- and light-controlled cells.

The increasing unpredictability and frequency of severe weather events, along with the rising costs impacting traditional open-field farming, mean it’s more important than ever to consider innovative approaches to sustainable agriculture, Landlogic chief executive Alan Cottington said.

“Our food security is vulnerable when we rely on traditional farming methods or importing for leafy greens, which are a basic and healthy food essential.”

It will be the first opportunity for many NZ horticulturalists to see a full-sized VFS growing system in operation. 

The fully automated vertical growing system offers an important alternative to producing commercial levels of leafy greens in the horticultural industry, where traditional outdoor growing systems have taken such a huge hit in recent floods and storms.

The system is heavily automated with computer-controlled feeding, watering and lighting, and sensors monitoring temperature, pH, EC and humidity levels. 

Loading, harvesting, recovery and re-use of the growing medium and reloading of the trays is also automated.

In agribusiness the commercial production of leafy greens, herbs or plant seedlings using multi-level growing systems is rapidly expanding around the world.

Cottington said NZ needs to get on board with the technology if it is to remain competitive and ensure there will always be a reliable and efficient alternative to in-ground production available. 

The VFS system is best suited to fast-growing crops, including leafy greens such as loose-leaf lettuce, baby spinach, rocket, mizuna, tatsoi, endive, pak choy, bok choy and beet chard, and herbs such as coriander, parsley and basil.

“With VFS there are no seasonal crops and no crop losses.” 

“Harvest times and end product quality are consistent and reliable, allowing commercial growers to confidently commit to delivery schedules and quantity agreements.”

VFS crop turnaround times are 28 days, regardless of external influences. 

By comparison, outdoor planting to harvest takes about 65-80 days for midsummer plantings and up to 130 days for autumn-winter plantings.

A VFS system in Australia is producing around 600kg of greens a week and takes only about three hours per week of human labour to run. 

The system has an automated packaging machine as well, taking the greens straight from the VFS system into eco-friendly bags or boxes for distribution.

In addition to helping with local food security, Cottington said the VFS system is better for the environment especially in such areas as water quality, fertiliser use and pest control chemicals. 

“The system does not use pesticides or herbicides and requires significantly less water than in-ground systems, with a water efficiency rate of 99.9%.

“Nutritionally, the product is at least equal to, if not better than, in-ground plants and the nutritional levels are much more consistent.”

Landlogic is the importer and distributor of VFS for NZ and the Pacific. Cottington said vertical farming is a big opportunity for Pacific Island countries to combat growing concerns of food security and access to nutritional foods.

“We already know that increasingly unreliable weather, more severe storms, and sea level rise is compromising food production in the Pacific.

“The VFS system offers Pacific governments, working with their farmers and horticultural companies, the chance to ensure basic greens will always be available, whatever the climate.”

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