Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
A $55 million contract has been formed between a Canadian producer and an Australian vertical farming technology business to build an automated leafy green production facility. Vertical Farm Systems (VFS), situated on the Sunshine Coast, creates fully automated growing systems that can produce food at scale, year-round, indoors, without relying on skilled labour, favourable weather, high soil fertility, or high water use. According to the business, the vertical farming market in the United States is worth $5 billion each year.
When Ashley Thomson and John Leslie first identified the opportunity to develop a system that would allow growers to grow crops indoors year-round without the need of herbicides or pesticides and with considerably less water use, they founded Vertical Farm Systems in 2009. The XA Series Warehouse System from Vertical Farm Systems is the culmination of nine years of development and commercial testing. The technique allows growers to grow a variety of leafy greens and herbs indoors for 52 weeks out of the year, and it’s virtually fully automated.
The system’s ability to generate consistent harvests with no seasonal crops, no crop losses, and uniform quality is part of its selling pitch. The company also highlighted the low overhead requirements, claiming that it can reach a 30 percent return on investment with “optimal electricity and building leasing expenses, compared to 3-4 percent for open field farmers.” According to VFS, the system that produces 400kg per week requires only six hours of work each week from one person, and the XA Series consumes 95 percent less water than open field farming. The XA Series systems can be put in any site that has enough power and water supply. A tiny XA Series system with 500m of building floor space may yield the same harvest as 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of traditional farming in a year, according to VFS.
VFS managing director Ashley Thomson said it may seem like the company had come out of nowhere, but the team had been working on this technology for almost a decade. “Now we’re able to take it to market we can see the massive global potential. In addition to our Canadian customer, we have sold units to growers in New Zealand, the UK and we’re currently negotiating multi-million dollar deals in the UAE and the USA,” he said.