The current challenges and solutions of vertical farming

Marketing Bever Innovations

Thanks to vertical farming, crops (including foliage) and herbs can be grown in a closed, multilayer cultivation system in a very small space. Moreover, efficient and sustainable growth is possible all year round, in a perfectly controlled environment and independent of local weather conditions. This makes vertical farming extremely popular. Nevertheless, this innovative cultivation technique also brings challenges with it, as Lennart Bijl, Operations Manager at Own Greens, knows.

John Bijl, Own Greens. Product: Leaf Carrier

Profitable cultivation
“Vertical farming is a promising, but also relatively expensive system,” he begins. “For example, this innovative cultivation technique does not make use of (free) solar energy. The energy consumption and associated costs for lighting are quite high. Moreover, the purchase of indoor cultivation techniques is quite pricey. Many vertical farms are therefore not (yet) profitable. To be able to control the costs of the grow carts or growing racks, climate installations, LED lighting and labor, it is wise to select a reliable, scalable and automatable system. This keeps labor costs to a minimum and allows for the most (energy) efficient cultivation possible.

Increased awareness
In supermarkets and markets, for example, products grown in vertical farms are often still sold for prices that are too low, Bijl notes. “This makes the payback period for vertical farms (too) long. All too often, lettuce and herb plants are still sold at rock-bottom prices, which means that you have to sell an enormous amount to recoup your investment.” More awareness is needed in this area, in particular, he believes. Also among consumers, who are often still unaware of the unique benefits of indoor soaking. “Vertical farming is a relatively new and still unknown market, which requires good advertising and a clear product presentation. Especially about the benefits, for which a large proportion of consumers are certainly willing to pay.”

Own Greens launched a pilot project at a local Albert Heijn, where jars of lettuce are sold for 2 euros. Pots of basil are offered for 2.50 euros. “Both products are about a euro more expensive than greenhouse or field-grown ‘standard’ products,” he says. “But consumers get more taste, higher quality, and longer shelf life in return. We have noticed that they really appreciate these advantages. So here lies an important task and profit for the market.”

For other products as well
At the moment, vertical farms primarily grow leafy vegetables such as lettuce and herbs. Other products such as tomatoes and strawberries are already possible, but not yet sufficiently profitable. Own Greens would like to change this in the coming years, so that tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, peppers, and other vegetables can be grown in a completely closed and controlled environment. There is a huge demand for this, says Bijl. “The potential of vertical farming is enormous. It’s up to us to live up to these expectations. Efficiently, sustainably and with a nice return for all parties involved.”

This post was produced in collaboration with multiple parties, including Own Greens and Bever Innovations.
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