UK's Vertical Future is pioneering DEFRA-funded research to optimize strawberry plant propagation in vertical farms.
AgTech Controlled Environment Agriculture Fruit Production Vertical Farming

Vertical Future: Revolutionizing Strawberry Farming

In a world marked by a growing concern for food security, climate change, and economic resilience, innovative solutions in agriculture are becoming increasingly vital. One such solution has emerged in the form of vertical farming, and a UK-based company named Vertical Future is pioneering in transforming strawberry cultivation through its revolutionary approach.

Vertical Future, a rapidly expanding vertical farming technology business headquartered in the UK, has made a significant announcement that could reshape the nation’s strawberry industry. As the lead organization on a DEFRA-funded research project supported by Innovate UK, Vertical Future aims to optimize the propagation environment of strawberry plants within indoor vertical farms while maximizing yield potential. The overarching goal is to reduce the UK’s reliance on imported produce, a step toward enhancing the nation’s food security.

The project’s core concept revolves around cultivating strawberry plants, or propagules, in vertical farms before transplanting them into glasshouses or polytunnels. Vertical farming provides a controlled environment that empowers plants to achieve their maximum yield potential. By fine-tuning variables like temperature, relative humidity, and light conditions, Vertical Future seeks to optimize flower induction and plant development. This optimization can ultimately result in significantly increased fruit productivity and, in turn, higher yields.

The significance of this initiative lies in its potential to reshape the UK’s strawberry industry. A staggering 85% of UK-produced strawberries originate from imported plants. This dependency on external sources makes the nation vulnerable to supply chain disruptions and fluctuations in market dynamics. With its ability to offer a controlled environment for year-round propagation, vertical farming technology could significantly shift this paradigm. By growing strawberry propagules within vertical farms, the UK can drastically enhance its plant supply capabilities, reducing the need for imports.

One of the most promising aspects of this project is its potential to increase strawberry yields by up to 40%. This increase could allow farmers to produce more strawberries within the same growing area, increasing the market share for locally grown produce. The UK strawberry market currently relies on imports amounting to £186 million (2020 figures), constituting 32% of the market. Through innovation in vertical farming, the UK could reclaim a more significant portion of this market, resulting in economic growth and reduced reliance on imports.

In addition to economic benefits, this research project has significant implications for sustainability and environmental conservation. The contemporary global challenges of climate change, population growth, and geopolitical factors necessitate strategic agricultural shifts. Integrating advanced vertical farming technology addresses these concerns by providing a controlled and reliable environment for consistent propagation. Traditional outdoor farming is subject to unpredictable weather patterns, limiting efficiency and reliability. Vertical farming’s ability to provide consistent, high-quality plants regardless of external conditions can be a game-changer.

Vertical Future has formed a consortium of partners to realize this ambitious project, including prominent names in the agri-tech and berry industries. Collaborators include the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), the University of Reading, Berry Gardens Growers Limited, Hugh Lowe Farms, Clock House Farm, Linton Growers, Blaise Plants, Delta-T Devices, and Cocogreen. This diverse and dynamic collaboration pool brings together expertise in various fields, from plant genetics to environmental science, and is a testament to the project’s comprehensive approach.

Vertical Future’s Chief Scientific Officer, Jennifer Bromley, emphasizes the potential impact of this project on the UK’s strawberry industry. She highlights the transformation of strawberries from seasonal treats to year-round staples, along with the challenge of increased imports. By incorporating vertically farmed strawberries into the mix, UK consumers can enjoy locally grown, environmentally friendly fruits with a reduced carbon footprint.

The involvement of NIAB, the University of Reading, and other research institutions ensures that the project will be rooted in scientific rigor and innovation. Their contributions range from expertise in photo-thermal responses in propagules to refining research outputs for commercial scalability. This interdisciplinary collaboration underscores the importance of blending cutting-edge technology with scientific knowledge to drive meaningful change.

Vertical Future’s work resonates with the broader global narrative of embracing technology to address critical agricultural challenges. In a world facing multifaceted food security and sustainability threats, vertical farming stands out as a beacon of hope. By enhancing crop yield potential and minimizing the ecological footprint, initiatives like Vertical Future’s research project can reshape the strawberry industry and the broader agricultural landscape.

As the world navigates an uncertain future, the importance of forward-thinking initiatives cannot be overstated. Vertical Future’s commitment to innovation, collaboration, and sustainability sets an inspiring example for the agricultural sector and beyond. Through projects like these, technology, science, and environmental consciousness converge to create solutions that nourish both people and the planet.

Image provided by Vertical Future


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