The world’s largest vertical farm is being built to help end the UK’s reliance on imported foods.
British retailers already get almost a third of their fresh basil from the team at Jones Food Company (JFC). It is grown, alongside other leafy greens, at Europe’s largest vertical farm in Lincolnshire, England.
But now they are experimenting with growing soft fruits, flowers, vegetables and even vines on a commercial scale. A state of the art innovation centre has just opened near the city of Bristol where researchers are working to make these ideas a reality in the next 10 years.
“We already know we can grow products other than leafy greens, from mushrooms to blackberries to tulips, but our task through this new facility is to push the speed of growth to work on a commercial scale,” says Glynn Stephens, head of growing at JFC.
The company wants to eliminate the need to import these products. In 2020, nearly half of all food consumed in the UK was brought in from overseas, according to the government.
And a recent report from real estate services company Savills found that 69 per cent of these imports come from countries with lower environmental scores than the UK such as South Africa and Turkey. For fruits, vegetables and cereals that proportion increases to 77 per cent.
To help end this reliance on food from overseas, JFC is building the world’s largest vertical farm.
The multi-million pound facility will have more than 13,500 square metres of growing space - the equivalent of 96 tennis courts stacked on top of each other. It is set to open in autumn this year.
“We want consumers to be able to pick up vertically grown peppers, tomatoes or berries at their local retailer, and know that that product is sustainable and hasn’t had to travel hundreds of miles to get to their plate,” Stephens adds.
He hopes that with JFC leading the charge, vertical farms can be the main suppliers of fresh food in the UK in the coming years.
With development moving relatively quickly, it could mean British strawberries at Christmas before we know it.
Are vertical farms better for the environment?
JFC says vertical farms use less fertiliser than outdoor operations as it is recycled through the farm’s water system if the plants don’t absorb it. There’s also no risk of fertilisers running off of fields and polluting water sources.
The company adds that this innovative food growing setup can be powered with 100 per cent green energy, uses 95 per cent less water and reduces the air miles attached to our food.
“Consumers, retailers, government and everyone involved recognises the importance and benefits of reducing emissions, reducing food miles, reducing pesticide use, reducing water use and generally being more sustainable in the way we grow our food,” says founder and CEO of JFC, James Lloyd-Jones.
Vertical farming is also carried out in a completely controlled environment. This means the process doesn’t rely on seasonal weather changes or limited land space to produce food 365 days a year.
Lloyd-Jones says JFC’s innovations could soon mean the UK will be wholly reliant on homegrown fresh produce.
“It’s clear from what we've achieved and are planning that, within the next 10 years, the UK could be in a position where we no longer have to fly in soft fruits and herbs from southern Europe, North Africa, the Caribbean or anywhere else.”