The South East Midlands’ rich agricultural heritage combined with our innovative mindset has enabled a new farming revolution to flourish. Vertical farming is allowing our entrepreneurs to drive a new sustainable approach to food production.
Agriculture has been at the heart of the South East Midlands for generations. Food and farming have long been the mainstay of the region’s economy, with companies such as Weetabix, Whitworths and Jordans putting food on the table for thousands of families across the area.
While those firms continue to prosper, a new kind of farming is now starting to make waves across the world, with the South East Midlands quickly establishing itself as the UK’s centre of excellence for this ground-breaking method of producing high-quality crops that are as good for the planet as they are to eat.
It’s time to say hello to vertical farming.
With food supply chains under more scrutiny than ever in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing impact of Brexit, vertical farming appears to offer a compelling solution to some of the biggest challenges facing 21st century agriculture. With its history and culture of innovation, the South East Midlands is perfectly positioned to put itself at the centre of this emerging sector.
The unique advantages of vertical farming are quickly coming into sharp focus for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers. It is the sector’s big moment and those involved at the sharp end are preparing for a major boom in interest and investment.
Sustainability and efficiency will be critical to future food production. Produce is grown indoors under LED lights, with a plant’s roots suspended in nutrient-rich water or mist. Temperature, humidity, and light are all carefully regulated within this sealed environment, and with racks that can reach seven storeys high, growers can pack more plants into the space.
High yield per square metre, low water consumption and no requirement for pesticides are all sustainability plus points, while a guaranteed, year-round supply is an attractive proposition for buyers.
Those buyers are typically major supermarkets, and all of the leading outlets have regional distribution centres in the South East Midlands. This makes the area a hotspot for vertical farms looking to set up their operation at the heart of the UK’s transport network, and within 60 minutes of their crop’s destination. This all helps get products to consumers quickly, efficiently, and at lower costs.
The proximity of vertical farms to their customers is crucial for creating a resilient supply chain. It lowers food miles, enables lower carbon emissions and reduces waste from harvests, making the model a highly sustainable alternative to existing production systems while meeting Government targets in the ‘race to zero’.
The environmental benefits of vertical farming are clear to see, but so are the economic ones.
Indoor farms, which are typically highly automated, require significantly fewer people to run. With constant year-round harvesting, a small and steady team rather than a large and seasonal workforce is required, resulting in cost-savings and greater consistency while potentially avoiding any Brexit-related issues concerning non-EU seasonal workers.
Round table event
A number of vertical farming companies are now looking to invest in the South East Midlands. The market is increasingly competitive, and SEMLEP is keen to support the sector as it prepares for a period of rapid growth.
A recent round-table event saw businesses meet with technology companies and representatives of Cranfield University. They discussed how different parties can work together to create an effective local eco-system where ideas and innovation can flourish.
The round-table demonstrated how we can bring industry and businesses together to help boost the economic performance of our region, particularly in high-growth sectors where initial support and intervention can be highly beneficial.
Given its deep-rooted association with farming and the agri-tech sector, the South East Midlands already has the knowledge base vertical farming companies are looking for, with a similar skillset required in future employees. That talent pipeline is well-served by local colleges including Moulton and Shuttleworth while Cranfield University offers a wide-ranging suite of expertise and research capability to help companies thrive.
SEMLEP is bringing people together to help them understand the current capabilities of vertical farmers, and the issues they will face going forwards, with the ultimate aim of developing the sector and creating research links and joint-projects.
Cranfield University is looking to bring together different disciplines (crop, energy, and closed manufacturing systems) into one compelling vertical farming proposition to meet the needs of vertical farmers in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire.
Already we have seen the impact of the initial round-table; discussions have taken place around the creation of a support mechanism for those involved, aligning our colleges to the sector’s potential and focusing resources on inward investment opportunities.
The need to develop a local and sustainable supply chain, built on strong environmental credentials to meet the needs of both Government and an increasingly demanding consumer, is clear. What’s also clear is that the best place for this to happen is right here in the South East Midlands.Back