“The big challenge of Controlled Environment Production (CEP) is to demonstrate to retailers that it can bring tangible benefits to their supply chain and their customers,” comments Kate Hofman, co-founder of GrowUp Farms. She is speaking at the Agri-Tech East conference on controlled environment production taking place at Rothamsted Research on 19 March.
GrowUp Farms has been pioneering CEP in the UK since 2013. From 2015 to 2017, it operated ‘Unit 84’, a commercial-scale aquaponic urban farm inside an industrial warehouse in London. The 8,200 square feet of growing space could produce more than 20,000 kg of sustainable salads and herbs (enough for 200,000 salad bags) and 4,000 kg of fish each year.
Kate continues: “A key learning over the last six years is that we can’t just focus on technology – we have to partner along the supply chain to integrate best practice in high-care food production and operational excellence. That way we can create a business model that ultimately delivers commercial success for growers and retailers.
“One of the major challenges for CEP is to optimise operations to bring down the cost of production to match existing imported products, whilst at the same time decarbonising food production.
“Our prototype urban farm showed that it was possible to use CEP commercially, and we were able to demonstrate the demand for the produce we could grow. This ranged from specialist micro-greens and cut herbs through to mixed baby leaf salad. We sold directly into restaurants, through a New Covent Garden distributor and also through bricks and mortar supermarkets and Farmdrop, the online supermarket.
“We are now working on scaling up our business. This will involve relocating, so that our production is co-located with a renewable energy plant and working in partnership with more traditional farming businesses to integrate their experience and expertise. ”
The event ‘Bringing The Outside In – Innovating for Controlled Environment Agriculture’ is taking place on 19th March from 10.00 – 16.00 at Rothamsted Research. It will look at the different growing systems, emerging technologies, the challenges of implementing a system and the logistics involved with integrating a controlled environment agriculture into the food value chain.