Edinburgh-based vertical farm specialist seeks investment to grow 40 indoor sites

Hydroponic farming specialist Shockingly Fresh is seeking investment as it unveils plans to build scores of indoor vertical farms, hailed as a more efficient, eco-friendly alterative to traditional methods.

Saturn Bioponics chief executive Alex Fisher and head of R&D Arnoud Witteveen among a basil crop. Picture: Adam Gasson

The Edinburgh firm is currently developing five vertical farming sites across the UK, including one in Scotland, covering a total of 50 hectares.

It is now seeking funding to kick start its ambitious goal of expanding to more than 40 UK sites over the next five years, while also advancing with a major project in Oman.

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Shockingly Fresh claims its vertical farms can produce up to five times more crops than traditional methods, using hydroponic towers in naturally lit environments to grow multiple cycles of leafy vegetables such as salads and herbs.

Towers of indoor lettuce, produced without heat or artificial light. Picture: Adam Gasson

Hydroponic farming, a method of growing plants without soil, will help British growers boost production and reduce reliance on costly off-season imports from the EU, the business claims.

The capital firm has teamed up with technology provider Saturn Bioponics and specialist salad grower ValeFresco to roll out their plans.

'A natural next step'

Saturn Bioponics founder and chief executive Alex Fisher, also a director at Shockingly Fresh, said: “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.”

Unlike many vertical farms which use fully enclosed systems with heating and artificial light, Saturn employs a naturally lit approach.

Shockingly Fresh chief operating officer Garth Bryans said: “A fully enclosed farm can achieve a higher annual yield, but when you add in additional lighting and heating costs as well as the high capex [capital expenditure], their typical costs per kilo are higher than a naturally lit set up can achieve.

“We have identified a significant market – particularly around the early and late season ‘shoulder months’ – which is currently filled by imported crops from Europe. Our sites will enable British growers to compete on a level field.”

Bloomberg has forecast the vertical farming market will be worth $16 billion (£13bn) globally by 2025.

In June Ocado invested £17 million in the sector, and now Marks and Spencer is growing premium vertical greens on-site at some of their flagship London stores.

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