Vertical Farming Design: how does it work and what funding is available?

How will the UK futureproof farming and feed its growing population in light of climate change? The answer could be vertical farming. With the world’s largest vertical farm set to open in Gloucestershire this year, the UK is poised to become a world leader in this area.

In this article we’ll explain how vertical farming design works and the key considerations involved in designing a successful vertical farm.

What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming, or indoor farming, is the practice of growing crops under controlled conditions on vertical surfaces. By growing upwards in vertically stacked layers, farmers can produce significantly more crops than traditional farming practices in the same space.

Technology to artificially control things like temperature, light, and humidity make it possible to utilise indoor spaces such as warehouses to grow crops, while automation systems help make farming faster and less labour intensive.

By growing crops in this way, farmers can use less water and land, increase year-round production levels, eliminate the environmental impacts of traditional crop production, and solve the increasing problem of “food deserts” – areas that lack access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

How can FEG help with vertical farming design?

Designing a successful vertical farm requires more than just an empty warehouse and a few grow lights. Careful design is required to ensure optimum conditions for high yield crop production.

There are several key considerations, including ventilation, climate control, lighting, conveyors, and automation systems, which must be designed correctly by an experienced team.

Climate control

Getting the climate right is essential in good vertical farming design.

The lighting required for crop production converts a huge amount of energy into heat, resulting in high humidity as water from the crops evaporates into the air. To control both the temperature and humidity it is essential that a correctly designed ventilation and air handling system is installed.

We have more than 16 years’ experience in designing complex ventilation systems for customers in the food sector.

Lighting

In vertical farming, artificial lighting is required to mimic sunlight. When designed correctly, artificial lighting can actually produce better results than natural conditions because there is no risk of crops being stressed by changes in climate.

Different crops require specific “recipes” for lighting so a carefully designed system which takes the crop type into consideration is important.

Automation

Including automation in your vertical farm design is key for maximising profitability and increasing scalability.

It’s possible to automate every stage of the crop growing process – from planting seeds and transferring them via advanced conveyors, to watering, lighting and fertilising, and automated harvesting systems.

These “Industry 4.0” technologies lower the cost of manufacturing farming components, provide the data necessary to develop fine-tuned solutions, and allow for smart farming stations that enable close monitoring and feedback of growing conditions.

From initial concept and design, through to commissioning and ongoing support packages, we’re experts in building automated systems. We also provide ongoing support packages, including remote data monitoring and troubleshooting.

Conveyors

Vertical farms require advanced and complicated conveyor systems to ensure maximum efficiency. Far from the traditional conveyor system you might imagine in a factory, these are bespoke, flexible conveyor designs to suit specific crops and farming applications.

In a vertical farm, overhead hanging conveyors are used to automate transport of crops from different areas of the farm, optimising the available space by holding multiple towers or plant trays. It’s also essential that conveyor systems used in vertical farming applications are clean and don’t require lubrication from oil, which is a contaminant.

 

Our team of conveyor design experts can work with you to design a fully-bespoke solution for your vertical farming project.

So, what’s the catch?

As we’ve outlined in this article, there are many advantages to vertical farming. The ability to produce stable crop yields, minimise land use and avoid the habitat destruction involved with traditional farming methods, all while future-proofing global food supply is a huge step forward. However, vertical farming is not without its disadvantages.

One of the key concerns is the costs involved in setting up and maintaining a vertical farm. The initial costs of vertical farming design and build can be very high due to the expensive equipment required. Operational costs can also be high once labour, energy and raw materials are taken into account – up to 50% of total production costs come from energy consumption and this is especially challenging in the current, expensive energy climate.

This is why careful design, and the use of automation, is so important. By drawing on the experience of specialists who can advise on every aspect of vertical farm design, it’s possible to reduce set-up costs, as well as keeping labour and running costs to a minimum. The cost of indoor agricultural equipment is also likely to drop as vertical farming becomes more popular.

What vertical farming grants are available?

The Government recently closed applications for round one of its Farming Investment Fund (FIF), designed to support farmers who are investing in new technology.

 

Round one allowed farmers to access two separate funds:

  • Farming Equipment and Technology Fund (grants of between £2k and £25k towards the cost of equipment and technology to sustainably improve the productivity of farms)

  • Farming Transformation Fund (grants of between £35k and £500k towards large capital items to help businesses improve productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability)

Although applications for this round of funding have closed, round two of the scheme is expected to open in Autumn 2022.

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Talk to us about vertical farming design

Have you recently received FIF funding or are planning to apply for a grant? Get in touch to discuss your project and find out how we can help.