Lofty berry yields in vertical farming trials
By Dave Harrison
Nov. 2, 2017, Vancouver – It was a banner summer season for organic strawberry yields during testing of Affinor Growers prototype towers.
The system also achieved increased water conservation.
The summer trials are now complete. Two 4 level beta prototype towers were installed at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) BioPod Surrey B.C. location in the agriculture research greenhouse.
Immediate objectives included:
• Developing an organic proprietary crop management system.
• Exceed field farming yields.
• Determine best practices to help catalyze commercial scale-up.
Affinor said it met its objectives by exceeding standard field production output using all organic inputs and a developed organic crop managing system.
The 256 plants would require approximately 450 square feet when planted in traditional field crops, whereas the tower only required a quarter of the space – and yet it dramatically exceeded yields per square foot.
As well, direct irrigation control consumed one-tenth the amount of water when compared to field sprinkler production.
The small four-level, 16-arm tower produced over 200 pounds of salable product in the short three-month trial window. All protocol and developed methods will be used to help catalyze commercial development with several current licence holders.
The next objective is to produce strawberries throughout the winter with customized LED supplemental lighting for fruiting crops and diversify the crop trials with kale and other leafy greens. Efforts are being made to start the next phase of winter testing by the end of the year, which is a key period when strawberry and produce prices are at their highest during the year.
TOWER DELTA DESIGN
Over the summer and grow trial period, Affinor took the opportunity to redesign certain aspects of the tower technology with the goal to reduce overall costs by 30 per cent per level, improve plant resource availability and improve versatility. A new Delta design is being prototyped and will meet all objectives by reducing the number of growing arms while maintaining plant density and reducing cost by over 30 per cent.
“We are very happy our summer growth trials and the product analysis proves the technology can grow strawberries efficiently and organically in soil without the use of chemicals or pesticides,” said president and CEO Jarrett Malnarick.
“Strawberries are traditionally a difficult fruit to grow, and we are excited to be changing the way strawberries will be commercially produced.”
BIOPODS TESTING SITE
The BioPods are a City of Surrey vision and agricultural initiative designed as a catalyst for agricultural research and innovation. Under the supervision of the University of the Fraser Valley, the BioPods provide a testing ground for new agriculture technologies and techniques.
In April 2016, Affinor installed a vertical growing system within the BioPod research centre to validate the technology by growing strawberries throughout the summer months and coming winter.