Inside view: Going underground? – Greenhouse Canada
As with everything these days, the shape and face of our industry seems to change at an ever-accelerating pace. This certainly seems to apply to automation and innovation. News of a $6.5-million provincial investment over three years to fund the new B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation, and federal funding to as much as $10 million over five years through Pacific Economic Development Canada1, shows how important this is.
The Centre will “bring together academia, government, and industry partners to create more productive, diverse, and resilient food-supply chains” using the skills of experts from several B.C. post-secondary institutions. “The center will focus on developing, testing, and piloting solutions in simulated and real-world environments to be farm-ready for commercialization.”1
“Agricultural technology in B.C. is a fast-growing field. There is huge potential for small and medium-sized businesses” says Deepak Gupta, associate vice-president for research, innovation, and graduate studies at KPU.1 And “Key to the B.C. Centre for Agritech is creating economic opportunities for Indigenous Peoples and helping agriculture technology businesses scale up, increase profits and create jobs.”1
The importance of funding such agri-tech innovation can be seen with an example from Ontario. Carina Biacchi, started Ortaliza Farms in Kingsville, Ont. in 2021.
“Ortaliza is an urban vertical farm store, a first-of-its-kind in Canada, and we grow and sell more than 65 varieties of microgreens directly to consumers,” describes Biacchi. “Vertical farming uses automated technology to grow crops in vertically stacked layers. Ortaliza has taken this concept and added a storefront for consumers.”2
Ortaliza epitomises the financial and technical support so fundamental to the successful birthing of new agri-tech industries. But it also highlights one of the other fastest changing aspects of our industry, namely where protected food production is taking place.
Commercial greenhouses for food production have traditionally been located in rural or peri-urban areas, on what has often been seen as “farming land.” But you will have for sure become aware of the wave of (partial) relocation of food production to more urban settings. Rooftop greenhouses are one example of this movement, but there are others, like Greenforges, for example.
“Greenforges designs and develops underground farming systems to increase the space efficiency of agriculture. The company is currently focused on developing Plant Forges, the first product line that allows [sic] to grow fruits and vegetables underground. Each Plant Forge has a diameter of 60 inches (1.5 meters) and a height of 200 feet (60.9 meters). However, the products can be supplied in any size if that’s what a client requests.”3
The first Forge, in Québec, will be producing a diverse range of crops including bok choi, lettuce, lettuce, arugula, strawberries, aromatic leafy herbs, peppers, tomatoes, and even oyster mushrooms. Greenforges’ Nicola Maglio says they are commercially viable and expects facilities to generate profit within three to five years.3
There are a number of characteristics familiar to many of these new ways of producing our food. Space utilization (land use efficiency), new technology, reduced water use (Greenforges claim up to 98% water savings3), reducing food miles, and proximity to market are common traits. And many are developed by young entrepreneurs completely new to what we might traditionally think of as the farming sector. Let’s not forget that there are also many current “non-farmers” who are getting involved. This brings many new and exciting ways of looking at how we will produce our food in the future. And while the new technology is a significant piece of the puzzle, the financial and business support provided by provincial and federal government funding is equally important. May it continue. Ideally, even at a faster pace to match the industry it serves.
- “Canada: $6.5 million CAD dedicated to boost agtech”, from www.KPU.ca sourced at www.HortiDaily.com.
- “Growing diverse ideas in horticulture” Greenhouse Canada, August 25, 2022, By Janelle Abela.
- “Canada: Underground farm in Quebéc to grow over 16 crops year-round”, www.HortiDaily.com.