Scotland’s first indoor vertical farm is due to be up and running later this year.
The purpose-built facility, which is currently under construction on the outskirts of Dundee, will be the first full-scale scheme of its type in the country.
The initial crops to be grown at the experimental unit will be herbs and salad plants, which will be cultivated in vertically stacked layers with hi-tech LED lighting and special hydroponic systems supplying nourishment.
Tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries will be trialled at a later stage.
It’s hoped vertical farming can help solve the problem of feeding the expanding world population and minimise damage to the planet from increased agriculture.
Growing in this way can offer a number of benefits over traditional outdoor methods, such as reducing the amount of space required and cutting the need for pesticides.
Controlled conditions allow crops to be grown all year round, with success not dependent on seasons or weather conditions.
Their compact nature also means the farms can be sited in built-up areas, making produce more local and therefore reducing transportation.
However, maintaining an optimum artificial environment is costly.
The Dundee project is the brainchild of Scottish-based vertical farming business Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) and is being carried out in collaboration with the James Hutton Institute for crop research and global automation business Omron.
Its aim is to deliver the first commercially viable operation in the UK – and possibly worldwide – by cutting labour and power costs.
It is hoped new insights into the varieties of crops best suited to cultivation in an indoor farming environment will also be revealed.
“Vertical farming allows us to provide the exact environmental conditions necessary for optimal plant growth,” said Henry Aykroyd, chief executive of IGS.
“By growing closer to the market in controlled vertical farming conditions, it is possible to accurately predict and grow to market demand, thereby reducing food waste.
“It is locally produced, therefore there is a reduction in food miles, and through the controlled environment there is a greater capacity to control quality, taste and flavour.
“The products are fresher, have a longer shelf life, and crop losses due to weather, disease, drought or pests are effectively eliminated.
“We believe that as populations grow and market demand increases there will be a far greater demand for indoor growing, closer to the consumer and produced as needed, to improve efficiency and reduce food waste.”
He added: “A highly integrated automation strategy, patented energy-reduction technology and the most advanced biological research available will be the three key pillars to success in this project.
“Partnering with two leading experts, Omron and the James Hutton Institute, to deliver this provides the very best opportunity for a new approach to vertical farming.”
Professor Colin Campbell, chief executive of the James Hutton Institute, said: “We are delighted to see how well the work on IGS’s indoor growth facility at our Dundee site is progressing.
“This initiative combines our world-leading knowledge of plant science at the James Hutton Institute and IGS’s entrepreneurship to develop efficient ways of growing plants on a small footprint with low energy and water input.”
Omron field sales engineer Kassim Okera added: “Omron’s guiding principles drive us to be a pioneer in creating and supporting the development of inspired solutions for the future.
“I can’t think of a better example than this one, which uses the most advanced technology to solve a humanitarian need.”