Netherlands-based fresh produce company Staay Food Group is building what is described as the first commercial vertical farm in Europe which uses LED lights to grow the crops.
GreenPower LED horticultural lighting by electronics giant Philips will be used on the project.
The facility will serve “one of Europe’s biggest supermarket chains” and will be used for testing, and optimising processes for future vertical farms.
The 900m2 indoor vertical farm will have over 3,000m2 of growing space and produce pesticide-free lettuce.
With upcoming stricter regulations on the residual pesticide levels in a bag or bowl of lettuce, retailers will need to provide exceedingly high quality, pesticide-free lettuce, Philips said.
Staay, Philips Lighting and vegetable breeder Rijk Zwaan collaborated and undertook intensive research over the past three years to determine the best combination of lettuce varieties and growth recipes to improve crop quality and yields.
Philips added having the right “growth recipe” prior to the start of operations at the vertical farm would help Staay achieve a faster return on investment.
“Our plant specialists at our Philips GrowWise research center in Eindhoven are testing seeds from a selection of the most suitable lettuce varieties, to define the best growth recipes and to optimise crop growth even before the farm is running,” Philips Lighting Horticulture LED Solutions managing director Udo van Slooten said.
Staay Food Group CEO Rien Panneman said producing lettuce for the fresh-cut segment indoors not only meant avoiding all pesticides, but also “a much lower bacterial count and therefore longer shelf life at the retailers.”
“With the lettuce being packaged at the same spot as where it is grown, we save on transport before distribution to retailers,” he said.
“Also, by avoiding weather fluctuations, we maintain an optimised and stable production environment to guarantee consistent and optimal product quality.”
Meanwhile, a representative from Rijk Zwaan said the tests the company was conducting within this project were enabling it to identify which varieties were optimal for growing in a vertical farm, and also which varieties offered the best taste and texture.
“It will help us with our continuous challenge to offer solutions for the growing world population,” marketing and business development manager Wim Grootscholten said.
“We believe that vertical farms will become increasingly important, because in the future we see more economic and environmental pressure to produce fruit and vegetables, such as lettuce, closer to where end-customers are located.”
The vertical farms in Europe, using LED-based lighting have so far been research centre or specialist producers serving restaurants.
The new Staay facility in Dronten will be the first in Europe to operate commercially, serving large-scale retail. The facility will start operations in the second half of 2017.
Philips’ GrowWise Center in the Netherlands is described as the largest research facility of its kind with a total growing surface of 234m2. Here, Philips Lighting’s researchers trial a variety of crops under different LED lighting and climate conditions to help determine their economic potential.