Building a vertical farm requires a different kind of farmer


LED lighting technology brings with it a revolution in indoor farming and greenhouse crops.

Advanced agriculture and specifically indoor farming is a different and relatively new field.

A vertical farmer is a different breed of farmer, and should have a research side to their personality. Unlike the magic of traditional farming, which has an intuitive aspect, indoor horticulture is scientific, precise, almost engineered.

If you were to wake up a farmer in the middle of the night who grows in an indoor facility, he would easily tell you what level of umol per second, per square meter, he uses for each plant, and what the pH level of the water is. In contrast, a farmer who does traditional farming, in an open field or a regular greenhouse, doesn't deal with lighting levels or the values of his irrigation at any given moment. But he will be able to say if rain is expected, or if strong winds are coming.

In the past decade the LED grow lighting industry has taken giant leaps forward.

Naturally, with the emergence of new technology there are many challenges and a lot of work until all its capabilities can be harnessed for our benefit. Even veteran companies, that have been studying the subject for over a decade, keep working and improving the protocols and spectrum recipes they work with.

Today, with the availability of separately controlled wave lengths and SPD, new possibilities are emerging that didn't exist a few years ago. It's still difficult to get unequivocal answers about the specific parameters for each plant. The large number of variables and the effect of water quality, location in the world and environmental conditions make it difficult to replicate growing protocols from other growers in the world. Most of the farmers and entrepreneurs entering the field are starting with experimental facilities and building a basic protocol for their target plants, before building an industrial sized facility.

In a growing facility with an artificial climate there's an essential need for control of many parameters, and the sensitivity to change is high. Unlike farming outdoors, in a greenhouse or in the ground, in indoor farming a small change in one of the variables can influence the plant and the margin of error is small. In addition, holistic point of view is required, because only the right combination of the parameters will yield the required result. A change in one of the system's elements, in a lot of cases, will require changes in other places to achieve optimization. For example, a change in the lighting levels should be accompanied with a change in the CO2 levels in the air.

There is no consensus on exact spectrum and SPD recipes. Everybody is trying to find their own solution. The option to change the spectrum and lighting levels during the growth, which can affect the quality of crop and length of cycle, opens the growers' minds. The search for the best answer creates many studies that are conducted in different places, from research facilities, through lighting manufacturers, to every grower with a facility or who wants to build one.

The large number of variables, the sensitivity and the need for a holistic point of view where the variables all affect each other, create a professional challenge.

Patience, professionalism and high precision are required to reach a reliable growing protocol. The leap from a reliable protocol to an optimal one is a step up that only the truly professional will be able to achieve.

These professionals will be the researching, the precise, the uncompromising who will find an answer. They are the ones who will be able to join the worldwide trend of manufacturing food in different methods, they will build vegetable factories in city centers, with production on a precise yearly schedule, producing a consistent, available and high quality product. And they will always continue to learn.

They are the farmers of the future and they are the ones who will reap the fruits of their research, literally.

This article was happily written, while sitting under LED lights, by Elad Toby, Business Development Manager - REMY.
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