"Our mission is to help vertical farms and the sector to make crop production processes more efficient and profitable. In addition to the harvest outcome of the cultivation strategy, we investigate the energy consumption of it and how the farm design influences that as well. We approach VF crop production with a holistic view in which the farm design, the crop, and the cultivation strategy all interact with each other and determine the outcomes." says Laura Bautista, a Vertical Farming Specialist at Delphy.
Delphy focuses on developing ready-to-implement expertise in all of its research domains, including vertical farming. The entire company has been consulting and developing knowledge for many years in open field and greenhouse systems for many different types of crops, from food to flowers. The Vertical farm team is not only developing knowledge but also integrating and adapting all the know-how that Delphy has in greenhouse production to the next level of controlled-environment agriculture, vertical farming.
Often, research is conducted in the facility's commercial-type setting, ensuring that the researchers are facing the same challenges as commercial operators. However, the team also conducts research on clients' facilities by demand.
"Our vertical farming facilities have the same technical design as commercial farms and operate in a similar manner, meaning that our cultivation strategies can be directly implemented in commercial vertical farms with little optimization on their side," explains Laura.
Current research goals
As Laura explains, Delphy Vertical Farming has already developed significant expertise in the indoor production of lettuce, leafy greens, and herbs. Research on indoor production of Strawberryis currently underway, while the next crop types to tackle will include vine vegetables and ornamentals. In a recent trial, researchers tested the upper-temperature limits in vertical strawberry production as a means of reducing the energy requirements for cooling indoor growing facilities and, in the end, operational costs of the production.
"Vertical farming offers many opportunities for strawberry production, such as the potential to focus more on size, flavor, or nutritional content of the berries and not on the suitability for long-distance transport chains. However, strawberries often require very dynamic and different cultivation temperatures, especially day vs. night, in order to achieve larger and sweeter fruits, and this is very energy-demanding. If we can produce high-quality berries in warmer and less dynamic temperatures than usual, we can maybe save on energy costs," explains Laura.
Following this and other trials on berries, Delphy is doing trials now on June-bearing varieties (strawberries). Laura explains that they are testing a strategy to cultivate them with continuous long-term production of berries because that is interesting for vertical farming systems.
"In vertical farms, we want to produce strawberries all year round continuously. This is different from how traditionally they are cultivated in the greenhouse, which they have two production peaks/seasons per year and then stopped."
According to Laura, detailed results are shared with the project partners who have funded the research, and the main outcomes are shared with the horticultural community through news publications, professional social networks, and industry conferences. Partners involved in this project and the funding program are Infinite Acres, 80Acres, Priva, Signify, Enza Zaden, 2Grow, Wageningen University, Hogeschool InHolland Delft, and Meteor Systems. (Funding source: TopSector Tuinbouw & Uitgangsmaterialen).
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