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Ashburton home to farming first

Ashburton home to farming first
Landlogic's vertical bioponic farming system. PHOTO SUPPLIED

It's hoped a high-tech, New Zealand first farming system in Ashburton could help to prevent food supply shortages in the wake of climate disasters.

An Ashburton property will be home to the first full-sized automated vertical farm for leafy greens, with the first harvest expected in October.

Construction of the system on Seafield Road is almost complete. It will be commissioned in August, ready for planting to start in September.

The facility is owned by Ashburton local Mark Etheridge and will be used by Rolleston-based vertical farm supplier Landlogic to showcase its modular vertical production system, where plants are grown in multilevel trays in climate and light-controlled cells in a warehouse.

The automated vertical growing system had the potential to improve food security, with reliable harvests and reduced overhead costs, Landlogic chief executive Alan Cottington said.

“The increasing unpredictability and frequency of severe weather events, attributed to global warming, along with the rising costs impacting traditional open-field farming, mean it's more important than ever to consider new approaches to sustainable agriculture.

“Our food security is vulnerable when we rely on traditional farming methods or importing for leafy greens, which are a basic and healthy food essential.”

The commercial production of leafy greens, herbs or plant seedlings using multi-level growing systems was expanding rapidly around the world, Cottington said.

New Zealand needed to get on board if it was to remain competitive and ensure a reliable and efficient alternative to in-ground production was available.

The automated indoor system meant there were no seasonal crops and no crop losses - and it was better for the environment.

Cottington said the automated system did not use pesticides, fungicides or herbicides and required significantly less water than in-ground systems, with a water efficiency rate of 99.9%.

The Seafield Road system would start with a single cell, but had the option to expand to up to three cells with the ability to produce 350kgs of leafy greens a week for the local market.

When fully installed, the system will take up 476m2 out of 900m2. The rest of the building contained a packaging room with a fully automated weighing and packaging system, dispatch area, office and staff facilities, Cottington said.

The system was developed in Australia.

Landlogic plans to conduct seed trials at this facility to assist other clients and help local seed companies develop products that can be sold around the world.

"We see this technology as complimentary to traditional agriculture in NZ and an answer to the increase in pressure for land for housing.

"It offers the ability for us to increase our production by efficiently using land. By using Vertical Farming for leafy greens production we can reuse available land for production of root type vegetables that are better suited to outdoor production and also use vertical farming to reduce imports of leafy greens out of season."

*** Vertical system facts

The system is heavily automated with computer-controlled feeding, watering, lighting, and sensors monitoring temperature, pH, and humidity levels. The loading, harvesting, recovery and re-use of the growing medium and reloading the trays is also automated.

It is best suited to fast-growing crops, including leafy greens such as loose-leaf lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, endive, pak choy, bok choy, beet chard, and herbs such as coriander, parsley, and basil.

The crop turn-around time is 28 days, regardless of external influences. By comparison, outdoor planting to harvest takes approximately 65 – 80 days for midsummer plantings, and up to 130 days for autumn and winter plantings.

By Sharon Davis