Could 'vertical farming' bring a future food revolution?
PUBLISHED: 17:00 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:29 28 June 2019
"Vertical farming" techniques which could reduce agriculture's footprint, limit food miles and open new markets were among the many new innovations on display at the Royal Norfolk Show.
Jason Hawkins-Row, founder of Suffolk firm Aponic, demonstrated the company's aeroponic growing systems with rural agents from Savills Norwich.
Aponic specialises in vertical farming systems that spray plant roots with a nutrient mix so that they get precisely the right quantities of nutrient and water, receiving maximum oxygen circulation at the root to aid fast, healthy growth.
The firm says the system typically uses 90pc less water than traditional farming methods and does not emit run off into the environment, which makes it more sustainable and easier to turn unproductive land into high value, low carbon growing areas.
Mr Hawkins-Row said his aeroponic systems had been very well received at the show - including by industry stalwarts. He has been travelling around the world to promote his system including to India, Vietnam and the Middle East.
"A lot of the food we eat today is grown hydroponically but this system gives you the chance to control what it is grown in, what is sprayed onto it, how it is washed and packed and which seeds it has been grown from," he said.
"As each crop is grown to a 'recipe' of nutrients in a controllable environment, we can produce predictable, consistent, great tasting crops throughout the year that will arrive on time, every time.
"We are now working with supermarkets and food processors close to stores to help cut long logistics chains and food miles and making supply cheaper and fresher."
Joshua Spink, from the rural team at Savills Norwich, added: "It will be the rural enterprise that embraces innovation that survives and technology such as this is just one way that farmers can try to future-proof their business.
"Rather than taking up lots of acres, produce is grown upwards, with several plants grown in a single footprint, so you don't need a huge amount of space.
"There is much greater control over variables such as sunlight and air temperature and it virtually eradicates soil diseases and weeds, making it easier to open up new and untapped markets for fruit, vegetables, salad, herbs and even cut flowers and pharmaceutical crops.
"As a result, contaminated and otherwise unusable land can be turned into an area to grow produce from all over the world - even those from warmer climates.
"Not only will that help reduce food miles but in a post Brexit world, where a lot of imports could be subject to tariffs, it means we can meet the demand to grow much more of our food here in the UK at lower cost."