UK start-up aims to build over forty vertical farms

The vertical farms could potentially reduce imports from the EU
The vertical farms could potentially reduce imports from the EU

A UK agri start-up is aiming to shake up the fruit and vegetable market by building more than forty 'vertical farms' over the next few years.

Edinburgh-based Shockingly Fresh is currently developing five sites to introduce the hi-tech farms, which it says are low cost and environmentally friendly.

Plans are afoot to build dozens of indoor vertical farms – which can grow up to five times the amount of greens as traditional farms.

The advanced units use special hydroponic towers to grow multiple crop cycles of leafy veg such as salads and herbs.

Increased yields from the farms could help British growers boost crop production and reduce the UK’s reliance on costly off-season imports from the EU.

Meanwhile, the enclosed environment will mean less pesticides and cleaner crops, Shockingly Fresh says.

Rights have been secured for one site in Scotland and four in England – covering a total of 50 hectares – with the site in Worcestershire awaiting full planning consent.

The firm has now launched an investor seed round to kick start its expansion to more than 40 sites countrywide over the next five years.

Vertical farming is an idea which has already taken root. In June, Ocado invested £17m in the sector, and now Marks and Spencer is growing vertical greens on-site at some stores.

Business specialists Bloomberg report that the market will increase 12 percent annually and be worth $16 billion globally by 2025.

Shockingly Fresh has teamed up with technology providers Saturn Bioponics and specialist salad growers ValeFresco to roll out their plans.

Over the last three years ValeFresco and Birmingham-based Saturn have successfully grown vertical crops of pak choi, lettuce and herbs for a range of customers – with positive results.

“With pak choi we saw a three to four-fold increase in yields per crop cycle, with a third more cycles per year, giving an overall five-fold increase in annual yield.” says Saturn Bioponics founder Alex Fisher.

“The crops are cleaner, the season is longer, there is less disease and pest risk and they are easy to harvest.

“Consumers are well-accustomed to strawberries grown under cover and this is a natural next step,” Fisher adds.

The start-up has already submitted a planning application for a 1.2ha site at Offenham in Worcestershire and has land agreed under heads of terms for a further 50ha across four sites.

They are now actively seeking more sites in the UK – to be funded by new investors – and are also advancing with a major project in Oman.

Garth Bryans, COO at Shockingly Fresh, says: “Our funding round will enable us to develop more than 40 sites – and we are keen to speak to brownfield site owners as well as traditional agricultural land holders.

“The hydroponics market is set for significant expansion in the years ahead, so there is plenty of room for a number of players to grow.

“With our system we can significantly extend the shoulder months and offset the need for early and late season imports – plus we can bring in heating to extend the season further if the market is there.”