Aerofarms has taken a unique approach, bringing all of the expertise in-house. been easy.” The team of “farmers”—crop biologists, microbiologists, bio engineers, mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, lighting engineers, information scientists—has more in common with high tech than with a farmer’s long years of experience out in the fields.
Aerofarms collects millions of data points about the green lettuce leaves during their growth—using them over the years to perfect their cultivation. Everything from the light, the spraying of water and the delivery of minerals is monitored, controlled and specified. Getting Oshima on the phone isn’t easy. He’s constantly traveling around the world; there are a lot of companies interested in the systems of these North American pioneers. “I often only see our farms through the camera feeds we’ve set up,” Oshima says with a chuckle. Racks and racks of growing in towers, rising up 12 levels.
The statistics about vertical farming seem to just gush out of Oshima, perhaps because he’s pitched them to investors so many times: “The growth cycle for baby leafy greens from seeds to harvest takes just twelve to sixteen days as compared to the thirty to forty needed on outdoor fields. In a year, that’s up to thirty production cycles as compared to just two from the field. Cultivating vegetables is successful without soil. The roots of the seedlings are regularly sprayed with water during the growth period. The nutrients are delivered precisely through a water mist.”
Data analysis as practiced by AeroFarms is also an important topic for den Besten. One of the focuses of his research at the moment is the “light recipe” for optimal cultivation. “Red light ensures fast and tall growth,” he says. “A high amount of blue light makes the lettuce grow a little bit smaller, but it does increase the proportion of vitamins and other beneficial nutrients. The flavor also changes depending on the light intensity and composition. More blue light, for instance, makes basil noticeably more pungent.”
Den Besten has been working on the project since 2015. Where will it all lead? “Any prediction would be fortune-telling,” he insists. “We’re still at the start. Vertical farming has been used industrially for just over ten years now. That’s practically nothing.” Then he shuts the BrightBox doors and closes the shutters. The lights stay on, of course.
Heading back to the parking lot, Jasper den Besten sees a head of lettuce outside the BrightBox that he took out of the nutrient solution earlier. It’s too late to put it back inside. He could throw it away, but that’s really out of the question. “Good food shouldn’t end up in the trash,” he says, placing the lettuce on top of his laptop bag. “I guess I’ll be having salad tonight.”
TÜV SÜD has been testing artificial light sources used to promote plant growth in its new Horticulture Laboratory in the greater Shenzhen area in China since December 2017. “We test how light systems and the light spectrum they emit affects plant growth in our laboratory,” says TÜV SÜD specialist Marvin Böll. “The goal is a classification system that makes it easier for consumers to select the suitable product for their particular needs.”
The work in the laboratory also checks whether the artificial lights fulfill all the statutory requirements for the respective international markets. “This is interesting for customers who, for example, want to convert from conventional lamps to LED systems,” Böll explains. The fact that he and his colleagues are working on the future of food makes his work even more important to him. “Due to a variety of factors, including climate change and the scarcity of arable land, it will be necessary to find alternatives to traditional food cultivation. We want to help with finding relevant solutions.”