April 18, 2024

Growing strawberry runners with vertical farming – what the science tells us

Here's how we utilise the latest research to grow strawberry runners using vertical farming.

Written by
Tanveer Khan
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Get a crop scientist’s insight on how we grow strawberry runners using vertical farming technology.

This article was guest written by IGS’ Head of Science, Tanveer Khan PhD. Tanveer and her team work at our Crop Research Centre near Dundee, Scotland, conducting trials on a variety of crops for customers across the world.

Tanveer is putting out a series of articles on nursery plants, taking into account decades of her and her team's experience in crop science and trials.

We live in a world facing the twin challenges of exponential population growth (set to increase by nearly 2 billion people by 2050) and climate change on a scale never seen before. The knock-on effects of both can be felt in industries everywhere, but agriculture in particular will have to adapt to feed a growing population amid uncertain growing conditions.

This is where vertical farming comes in. At IGS, we provide vertical farming technology for growers across the world, producing anything from soft fruits and leafy greens, to pharmaceuticals and forestry.

We’ve spoken before about the advantages of growing strawberries using vertical farming technology, but what about the science behind it? As IGS’ Head of Science, I lead our research into a range of starter plants, such as strawberry runners. We draw upon decades of experience in crop science and engineering to develop crop recipes designed to last the test of time (not to mention withstand climate change).

Types of strawberries runners we’ve conducted trials on

We’ve conducted trials on both everbearing and June-bearing strawberries. Everbearing strawberries typically give fruit throughout the year, whereas June-bearing strawberries are planted in November and give fruit in June. This is obviously only relevant when looking at conventional field practices – using vertical farming technology, you can grow 365 days a year, no matter what the weather outside looks like.

The ability to grow year-round has become more pertinent when looking at weather patterns of late. We can no longer safely predict optimal growing months (reports indicate growers in some areas could experience as much as a 17% decline in strawberry production by 2050). Like all our crop trials, we think about future food security and how we can safeguard against climate change throughout the process.

We’ve successfully run trials for two different companies, using two different methods for starter plant production. One way of doing this is by growing from seed, the other by propagation (or by cuttings).  

Currently we’re testing what the best route for growing is (including investigating the optimal number of runners we need to generate from each mother plant), and the energy requirement to make this approach economically viable. We can optimise energy usage by using distinct lighting ratios throughout the day to ensure our customers get the best value for their money (this is made more economically beneficial if the farm can be collocated alongside a renewable energy source).

How we keep strawberry runners disease and pest free

For seed strawberries, we pay a lot of attention to where we source the seed from. We also follow the matrix set by SASA, the body for Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture. We've got very good relations with them, which helps to fully understand their guidelines and how they apply to crop production in a vertical farming context.

When we bring in mother stock, we’ll start by putting the mother plant into quarantine in the James Hutton Institute, located next to our Crop Research Centre. This allows us to check whether there is any onset of disease, or pest infestation. After two weeks, we can establish whether the plants are disease free and – providing all is well – we'll move them into one of our Growth Towers.

Certain pests are quite common in open-field farming and glasshouses for strawberry runners, such as whiteflies. We can eliminate that using our technology, fine tuning the growing environment to really focus in on crop health.

Testing the output

We work closely with other research institutions to test whether the strawberry runners we are growing are as good as the ones which produce strawberries for the market. They conduct metabolic assessments to determine sugar levels and acid content – we've found that a good balance between these two factors makes for a flavoursome strawberry.

The James Hutton Institute also tests for strawberry aldehyde – an organic compound used in the flavour industry in artificial fruit flavours, in particular strawberries. Our work with the James Hutton Institute and through customer trials has helped us to get a real understanding of the efficacy of growing strawberry runners using vertical farming, helping establish what lighting and nutrition ratios work best for the runners before they are transported to a greenhouse to fruit.  

Working with IGS

Headquartered in Scotland, IGS is a global, award-winning vertical farming technology company with over a decade’s experience blending crop science, engineering, and agronomy. Our patented technology empowers growers to harvest a wide range of crops, using Total Controlled Environment Agriculture (TCEA) to fine tune the growing environment.

IGS has deployed technology across multiple continents, most recently signing a deal with ReFarm to produce the world’s first “GigaFarm” in Dubai. The GigaFarm is set to replace roughly 1% of the UAE’s total food imports, helping to guarantee food security and access to nutritious produce for local populations.

Tanveer and her Crop Science team have helped IGS develop Crop Recipes for customers across the world. The Crop Science arm of IGS is crucial to helping understand what makes a good crop – whether looking at nutritional value, lifespan, or energy efficiency.

Want to learn more about Tanveer’s work and how it could benefit your operations? Get in touch – we'd love to chat.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Artificial intelligence and agriculture: how can AI impact vertical farming? What we know so far

Read IGS’ Chief Technology Officer, Dave Scott, and Head of Data, Emily Seward’s thoughts on artificial intelligence and agriculture, and how vertical farming can benefit.

Read IGS’ Chief Technology Officer, Dave Scott, and Head of Data, Emily Seward’s thoughts on artificial intelligence and agriculture, and how vertical farming can benefit.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Can you grow tomatoes with vertical farming? A crop scientist’s insight.

Read IGS’ Head of Science Tanveer Khan’s insight on growing tomato starter plants with vertical farming, covering everything from nutritional value to specific nuances between varieties.

Read IGS’ Head of Science Tanveer Khan’s insight on growing tomato starter plants with vertical farming, covering everything from nutritional value to specific nuances between varieties.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Growing strawberry runners with vertical farming – what the science tells us

Here's how we utilise the latest research to grow strawberry runners using vertical farming.

Here's how we utilise the latest research to grow strawberry runners using vertical farming.