A research network to help bring forth advancements in vertical farming
We have launched a world-first international Research Network designed to bring together leading minds in crop and data science – as well as multiple engineering disciplines – to drive innovation in vertical farming, a technology that can dramatically improve global food security.
Vertical farm infrastructure enables producers to grow crops regardless of climate, weather or environmental conditions such as soil health. It is a crucial tool in helping the world sustainably feed a growing population, improving food security and reducing food miles while catering to local needs and tastes.
The Research Network so far spans four continents, bringing together the brightest minds in plant science, data science horticulture, forestry and engineering to continue to broaden the application of vertical farming technology and the range of its applications.
Its aims include maximising and defining optimum conditions to grow regionally important crops, speed breeding, new variety development, establishing best practice to reduce energy and water consumption as well as proving the technology’s capabilities to efficiently grow novel crops.
David Farquhar, CEO of IGS, said: “Formally launching this network of globally linked research institutions is a huge milestone not only for IGS, but also for the wider CEA industry. We are confident that by bringing together diverse mindsets from all regions of the world with such a wealth of experience across key areas such as horticulture, agriculture and forestry, we will be able to continue to broaden the application of our vertical farming machinery.
“IGS has always been an engineering business with the double-helix of crop and data science at our core, so establishing a way to give the research community direct access not only to our technology, but also to a closely-linked network of like-minded institutions is a significant step. The more we understand about vertical farming, its scope, opportunities and limitations, the greater the impact our technology can have on securing a greener, more sustainable future, in close partnership with traditional growing methods.”
Among those to have so far signed up as inaugural members of the IGS Research Network are the James Hutton Institute in Scotland – a long-term research partner with IGS – England’s Nottingham Trent University, the University of Queensland, Australia, and Germany’s University of Applied Science, HSWT. Each member will build an IGS vertical farm on their site, supported by IGS, to allow them to study crop growth and performance in their own geography and environment.
Chris Horne, who will lead the research project for IGS, said: “Our aim with the research network is to continue to drive forward crop science and indoor growing innovation by collaborating with the leading minds across the world, validating the technology across different environments and climates, thus improving even further the growth recipes we’ve already developed.
“The World Resources Institute estimates that we need 56% more food than available today to feed the global population by 2050. This work has never been more important. So far, we have proved that more than 200 varieties of crops can be successfully grown indoors – and we’ve demonstrated that having total control of the growing environment enables us to produce high-quality crops at up to six times the speed of other techniques, such as traditional farming or glass houses.”
Priority themes for research include plant analysis, photobiology, and nutrition, including studying ways to enhance nutritional density with an emphasis on produce freshness, flavour and quality. Researchers will also have the chance to work together and share knowledge across different climates and markets.
IGS’ technology is protected by more than 25 patents that uniquely allow automation of every element of the growing environment, including providing optimal light, airflow, watering and nutrition.
Professor Derek Stewart from the Advanced Plant Growth Centre at the James Hutton Institute said: “Having worked with IGS for several years we know very clearly how the IGS system adds to our research toolbox and is complimentary to other assets like growth chambers and glasshouses. Effectively it gives us 50 lab benches in each tower to enable crop research under very precise control but also at scale. It is also what I call a “time machine” for research, speeding up cycles within projects. We are looking forward to collaborating across the IGS Research Network to accelerate crop science – it will dovetail perfectly with our existing work at the Advanced Plant Growth Centre.”
What our partners said
Professor Chungui Lu from Nottingham Trent University said: “Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is strategically positioned to make substantial investments in vertical farming. With partners from Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS), we are establishing a Collaborative Research Centre of Excellence in Vertical Farming for our leading position in this sector around the world and to help foster impactful collaborations.
“We are at the forefront of integrating intelligent technologies to redefine conventional crop cultivation methods. Our current research on Smart Green Grow, including AI-based light and nutrient recipes, can optimise plant growth and significantly improve profitability and ecological sustainability simultaneously. A cornerstone of our innovative approach is the deployment of IGS towers, pivotal in expanding the horizons of our research capabilities. These state-of-the-art vertical farming systems afford us precise control over environmental variables, ensuring consistent and tailored growth conditions for diverse crops.
“What distinguishes our collaboration within the IGS Research Network is the invaluable opportunity it provides to engage with a global community of like-minded researchers and practitioners. This collaboration will facilitate knowledge exchange, and collectively pursues sustainable and efficient farming solutions, impeccably aligned with our mission at the Centre. Moreover, this endeavour grants us a unique platform for teaching and training in the realm of smart vertical farming.”
Professor Paul Gauthier from the University of Queensland, said: ““Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and food Innovation at the University of Queensland is proud to join the IGS Research Network and support the development of innovative solutions for the success of vertical farming as a solution to feed a growing global population. This initiative aligns with our vision on reaching the UN sustainable goals and increase food production by 70% by 2050 through innovations and cutting-edge science.
“With climate change and extreme weather impacting our daily agricultural productions, it is critical to change our approach to research and develop a more collaborative network where data and results could be shared openly. We believe that the success of indoor vertical farming remains through multi-disciplinary collaboration and the IGS Research network is the first step in the right direction.
“Such a network will allow us to develop methodologies to grow crops that won’t be available to grow in the near future due to climate change and biological pressures. But the IGS Research Network is also about finding solutions to support current and future farmers by providing them with vigorous and adapted crops to mitigate the impact of climate change on productivity and create a resilient global food supply.”
Professor Derek Stewart from the Advanced Plant Growth Centre at the James Hutton Institute said: “Having worked with IGS for several years we know very clearly how the IGS system adds to our research toolbox and is complimentary to other assets like growth chambers and glasshouses. Effectively it gives us 50 lab benches in each tower to enable crop research under very precise control but also at scale.
“It is also what I call a “time machine” for research, speeding up cycles within projects. We are looking forward to collaborating across the IGS Research Network to accelerate crop science – it will dovetail perfectly with our existing work at the Advanced Plant Growth Centre.”
Professor Heike Mempel from HSWT said: ““Winning IGS as a partner is a milestone for the further development of HSWT as a key player in the field of vertical farming. In the long term, this will pave the way for the 'IGS Tower' to be brought to the HSWT as one of the currently best technologies for vertical farming. As part of the IGS research network and with the HSWT's Applied Science Center (ASC) for Smart Indoor Farming, which has been active since 2020, we can achieve our goal of establishing ourselves as a contact for vertical farming in Bavaria and far beyond take it to a whole new level.”