July 21, 2021

A revolutionary, significantly greener and more sustainable way of growing fruit and vegetables in the UK is starting to gather pace.

Earlier this month, a fruit grower in the South of England delivered to Tesco the first commercial volumes of vertically-grown strawberries in a production system requiring 50% less water and with a 90% reduction in carbon footprint per kilogram of fruit.

Even better news for space-challenged fruit and vegetable farmers is that yields from vertically-grown crops are significantly higher than by using conventional production methods.

Direct Produce Supplies (DPS), which has been supplying Tesco with fresh produce for 40 years, have been trialling vertically-grown strawberries for the last three years at its farm near Arundel, West Sussex.

Now the fruits of their labour are ready to hit stores, with a predicted yield of nearly one million kilograms of vertically-grown strawberries due to be delivered to the supermarket this summer.

But more importantly for other fresh produce growers is that the vertical technique DPS used will have massive energy saving implications for the environment and also lead to better fruit availability and quality.

In the last three years, Direct Produce Supplies, which has developed and planned the ground-breaking project exclusively with Tesco, has tested several different structures and methods. They have now developed a system which:

  • Requires 50% less water than everyday production;
  • Has a 90% lower carbon footprint per kilo of strawberries;
  • Yields five times more fruit per square metre than existing methods; and
  • Can deliver a constant supply of strawberries for up to nine months without the impact of adverse weather conditions.

Sabina Wyant, Tesco’s Fruit Technical Manager, said: “Vertical crop production is a giant step for fresh produce growers in helping reduce their carbon footprint and use less water, at the same time boosting their yields.

“For shoppers, there is also a clear benefit, with consistent quality fruit and availability for up to nine months of the year, regardless of the weather conditions.

“Vertical-farming will put an end to that uncertainty and ensure perfect growing conditions during an extended nine-month season.”

The premise of vertical farming is growing fruit or vegetables indoors under fully controlled conditions and reducing the industry’s environmental impact.

This is done hydroponically – with a water feed – instead of in soil, in multiple stacked layers in an indoor environment which guarantees yields while improving the supply of healthy, nutritious food and minimising the miles involved in its distribution.

Paul Beynon, Chief Executive of Direct Produce Supplies, said: “Vertical farming offers growers a protected environment that requires significantly less land, water and energy to produce excellent quality crops.

“We chose our farm location near Chichester on the south coast because this region gives the highest natural levels of light and heat in the UK and so maximises the potential.

“We are still at a relatively early stage in vertical-growing and in the future, we believe that we can make even further advances in sustainable strawberry production and that other fruit crops could take to the system in a similar way.”

It seems the UK is not the only country looking at sustainable farming methods and ways to maximise fruit and vegetable production. Earlier this month SIAL Newsroom revealed the UAE’s plans to develop a major hydroponics farm at Dubai Industrial City – the region’s leading industrial and logistics hub.

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