The Rise of Vertical Farming and the Controlled Environment
As a recent guest on a podcast hosted by Food Engineering’s Wayne Labs, Tyler Cundiff, president of Gray’s Food & Beverage group, discussed the business challenges of an economic downturn, the rise of vertical farming and controlled environment facilities, and the expanding role of alternative proteins and cultured meats across the industry.
The share of controlled environment greenhouse projects is growing within the food & beverage industry, driven largely by smaller projects. While the number of these operations will likely continue to trend upward, Gray has recently seen significant investment in large-scale greenhouse projects, particularly coming from Canada and Europe. To be successful at scale, controlled environment operations demand very specific technology that can precisely maintain optimum conditions for growing. Process engineering and controls are key to this infrastructure.
Cundiff explained that conditions such as light spectrum and intensity, irrigation, air movement, and nutrient dosing must be meticulously controlled, but for businesses able to master these elements, the benefits are obvious.
Consumers have become accustomed to produce being available year-round. Vertical farming may be able to help keep this viable; local by definition, vertical farming is more sustainable, requiring fewer resources and reducing product transport challenges. More timely delivery of fresh product also helps to limit food safety risks.
Operators today rely on an immense amount of data from different tech applications to keep energy use low. We’re also seeing infrastructure technology that improves efficiency, such as combining heat and power. Due to the high level of precision required and the importance of analyzing and applying data, vertical farming/controlled environment facilities are often great contenders for advanced automation & controls services. Rather than turn to external partners, some producers are acquiring automation and robotics companies to integrate directly into their operations.