Vertical Farming Poised to Revolutionise Australia’s Agriculture Sector

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Could vertical farming be the game-changer that revolutionises Australia’s agriculture sector?

Despite Australia’s reputation as a leading food producer, experts suggest that vertical farming could be pivotal in further expanding the nation’s agricultural footprint. A recent conference hosted by Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) shed light on the potential of this innovative approach, citing various challenges faced by traditional farming methods in the country.

The Need for Innovation

“Vertical farming can become an important piece of the nation’s agriculture puzzle,” stated Chris Horne from Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS), a renowned international agritech innovation company based in the United Kingdom. 

He addressed attendees at the PCA conference in Brisbane and highlighted the impact of extreme weather and other factors on the current farming environment in Australia.

“I have heard many people say that we don’t need vertical farming in Australia,” Mr Horne said during his presentation. “We know Australia has one of the lowest populations per square kilometre of land in the world but one of the highest food production percentages. It also has plenty of sunshine, so you may think, ‘Why do we need the LEDs.’ But we know agriculture and horticulture can be challenging here. I also hear about labour issues; water availability is another key problem. So there are many challenges, but the way I see it, Australia has many opportunities.”

Complementing Traditional Methods

Mr Horne emphasised that vertical farming should not be viewed as a replacement for traditional farming practices but rather as a complementary method. He envisioned a synergy between vertical farming and conventional approaches like glasshouses, polytunnels, and outdoor growing. This collaboration could overcome challenges and pave the way for increased production and diverse crop offerings.

Commenting on IGS’s approach, he said, “While vertical farming on its own is not the answer, it will be one of the jigsaw pieces alongside traditional glasshouse, polytunnels, and outdoor growing – but importantly not in competition with each other, complimenting each other.”

Innovative Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Model

At the conference, IGS presented its Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) model, introducing two critical approaches. The first involved the traditional seed-to-harvest method, while the second incorporated a hybrid model using IGS growth towers. In this hybrid approach, young plants are cultivated using growth towers and transferred to glasshouses, polytunnels, or outdoor fields for accelerated growth until harvest.

Infarm’s Data-Driven Biofeedback System

Another indoor farming company, Infarm, presented its data-driven biofeedback system for plant growth monitoring and recipe adjustment. 

Pavlos Kalaitzoglou and Viviana Correa Galvis shared insights on how automation and data analysis can enhance plant growth. Ms Correa Galvis emphasised the importance of sharing information and data in the protected cropping industry.

“The trick is not only to have the data – but to know how to use it,” said Ms Correa Galvis. “On this journey, we realise that it is not important to keep this information to ourselves because we require that the people interested in supporting us know our needs. We need to think about the science behind vertical farming, so fewer scientists will work on it if we don’t put the information out there.”

Addressing Key Themes in Agriculture

The PCA conference covered various agriculture-related themes, including nutrition, irrigation, climate energy, sustainability, waste, and pollination. Delegates participated in presentation sessions, grower panels, and insights from successful businesses within the industry.

Researchers presented projects focused on advancements in pollination techniques. Dr Chris Lehnert from the Queensland University of Technology shared details of an ongoing project involving robots autonomously pollinating flowers in complex agricultural environments. Katja Hogendoorn discussed the potential of mobile polliniser units to increase fruit sets in protected cropping.

Record Attendance and Industry Showcase

This year’s PCA Conference witnessed record attendance, with around 600 people registered, including more than 200 growers. The event featured a trade show exhibition with over 90 companies showcasing their innovative agricultural products and services.

The PCA conference highlighted the growing interest and potential for vertical farming to revolutionise Australia’s agricultural landscape. Experts agree that by combining traditional farming methods with innovative vertical farming solutions, the country can address existing challenges and explore new opportunities for increased productivity and sustainability. 

As the event continues with presentations and farm tours, industry stakeholders look forward to a future where technology and tradition work hand in hand to ensure a bountiful agricultural future for Australia.

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