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Automating vertical farming

David Farquhar, CEO, Intelligent Growth Solutions.

“We do not compete with traditional farmers; we are here to supply them with novel infrastructure.”

David Farquhar’s team have produced a fully automated platform that provides a totally controlled indoor growing environment which can be specifically optimised to grow a wide range of plants. Rather than growing crops commercially, Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) supply these platforms to farmers, growers and foresters to provide a hybrid of vertical and traditional farming.

Example of a climate-controlled vertical farming system provided by Intelligent Growth Solutions.
Example of a climate-controlled vertical farming system provided by Intelligent Growth Solutions.

Based on the real-world requirements of their founder, a farmer, IGS have incorporated a suite of technologies from a range of existing industries, such as healthcare and automotive production, to design vertical farming modules called “Growth Towers”. The towers are growing machines that come in three heights but otherwise have a consistent design. The priorities throughout the evolution of the system were economic efficiency, scalability, ease of use and maintenance.

Plants are grown in nutrient enriched substrate in trays lit by a proprietary lighting system in a biosecure environment. Their growth is then monitored, with climate and conditions adjusted throughout the growth cycle to optimise whichever outputs, such as appearance or taste, the grower’s customer specifies. The units gather data from sensors and images analysed by massive cloud computing. The results help build knowledge of plant science, enabling continuous improvement and an ever-increasing crop range. Plants, including trees, botanicals, roots and fruits can be grown seed-to-harvest or transferred to the open field or glasshouse environments for further growth.

The machines are deployed across the globe to support growers’ requirements and to date have grown over 150 different crops. Each crop has an optimal “growth recipe” depending on the qualities specified for the end product. Once this recipe is identified, any type of plant could be grown, subject to height limitations, including specialised foods, trees, flowers and plant-based pharmaceuticals.

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