Up, up and away! Is vertical farming the future of crop production in New Zealand?

Up, up and away! Is vertical farming the future of crop production in New Zealand?

26 Seasons Farms was born in a small Wellington garage in 2017 initially growing micro-greens before they moved into strawberries. What makes 26 Seasons stand out from other growers however is their impetus on making the most of limited space, utilising indoor, vertical farming to grow strawberries year-round.

Now based in Foxton, CEO Grant Leach told REX host Dominic George they always had the vision of going into some sort of berries even when they first started growing micro-greens.

Testing whether they could take the knowledge they had set up growing micro-greens in vertical farming in a facility in Wellington, once they realised this was possible, 26 Seasons decided to go all in.

"We did a whole lot of analysis on the market both domestically and internationally to see whether in fact there was an opportunity for us to focus on strawberries and again the answer was yes," he said.

"We in many respects said let's put all our eggs in one basket and do what no one else has been able to do."

While he admitted they are still going through refinements on the most efficient formula for maximum output, Leach believes the ability of Kiwis to continue to adapt and learn quickly has helped them grow so quickly.

"Our head of innovation has a view of it saying 'you know what, if you fail, fail fast and learn faster' and that's very appropriate."

With a focus on premium, locally grown produce for consumers, he told George the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the success of their project.

"We generally find that, for example, in New World Thorndon we will have them delivered and they are generally gone within a couple of hours.

"A very discerning customer base that understands what great tasting fruit is all about."

As early adopters of vertical farming and innovation in fruit production, Leach believes that eliminating the impact of weather and seasonal availability of produce could see it become more and more popular, particularly as biotechnology and science continues to develop.

"As vertical farming becomes more sophisticated you are able to grow a greater variety of crops so what you will see is that in many instances it provides the customer with an insurance policy that they can get what they want and have that choice all year round.

"Particularly off-shore for food security issues. We are seeing a really high level of interest in vertical farming."

Listen to the full chat between 26 Seasons Farm CEO Grant Leach and Dominic George above.

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