STC Partners with Current to Model the Farm of the Future

  • Current teams up with Stockbridge Technology Centre to create the ‘farm of the future’ 
  • Arize™ LED horticulture lighting solution enables researchers to find the optimal environmental parameters for high-quality, intensive crop growth
  • Research facility to redefine the future of food production by empowering urban farming to achieve industrial-scale production 

For more than 70 years, Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) has acted as a bridge between academia and commercial agriculture, establishing its legacy in horticultural innovation through applied research and development. Since its inception, STC has provided invaluable insight to some of the largest food companies and farmers in the U.K., helping them discover and implement groundbreaking techniques, technologies and farming methods to keep pace with the changing needs of a growing population. 

Vertical Farming: The Answer to the Food Industry’s Prayers? 

Today, with uncertainty surrounding the potential impact of Brexit on the farming industry, the U.K. population’s continued growth, and an increasingly demanding consumer who has rejected the idea of seasonal eating, traditional farming is rapidly approaching a crunch point. The U.K. population’s growing demand for premium produce at a low cost is the highest it’s been in the last decade. Consumers want access to fresh fruit and vegetables – everything from spinach leaves to avocados – at a fraction of the price, all year round. To address this, STC has started to explore new approaches to farming that will transform the way we view the future of food production on a global scale. 

Vertical or urban farming reimagines the entire farming process from a scientific and technological perspective. Instead of rolling fields, inconsistent soil and unpredictable weather, urban farms closely control every aspect of plant growth, from the nutrient mix applied to the roots, to the concentration of atmospheric CO2, temperature, light and humidity. While the concept of urban farming seems like a “no brainer,” in practice, sustaining a fully functioning vertical farm can quickly become a financial drain. To date, urban farming has been seen as a “hobby sport” with farms failing to scale production to a commercially viable, profitable level and swiftly going out of business. 

STC, backed by the Crop Health and Protection Centre (CHAP) and with funding from Innovate UK, is addressing this barrier by establishing a state-of-the-art research facility that will allow budding urban farmers to test and model their vertical farm parameters before even breaking ground on their own installations. Knowledge is power and with the knowledge of the exact parameters needed to successfully optimize the yield of their chosen crops, growers will be able to build and deploy their businesses with confidence.  

Red vegetables under purple grow lights

The Future is Bright with Arize 

STC and GrowStack, systems integrator and specialist in vertical LED grow units, turned to Current for the horticulture lighting solution that would deliver the perfect balanced light spectrum needed to optimize the growth of a broad range of crops to be tested. They found their solution with Current’s lighting, which offers key benefits including: 

  • Easy installation – Luminaires can be daisy-chained end-to-end, making installation easier in comparison to the competition 

  • Water resistance – Fully sealed and IP66 UL Wet rated, perfect for high-care and cleanroom environments 

  • Energy efficiency – One of the most energy efficient solutions on the market, generating approximately 33% less heat than competitive products and thus lowering the demand for environmental cooling 

  • Long lifetime and 5-year warranty – 36K-hour lifetime (L90), giving customers peace of mind and allowing them to maximize their return on investment 

“We were able to install the Arize lighting in record time” states Tim Coates, Director at GrowStack. “Thanks to its plug-and-play design, we were able to cut installation time by about 75%, allowing us to connect all the lighting in both rooms in just 3 weeks from start to finish.” 

Led by Dr. Rhydian Beynon-Davies, head of novel growing systems at STC, the new STC facility will empower decision makers in the food industry by providing insight into vertical farming and its potential for large scale crop production. 

Testing the Waters in Yorkshire 

With over 3 acres of grade 1 land at its disposal, STC transformed an existing building into the ‘farm of the future’, containing two identical grow rooms with full climate control. Researchers can monitor and tweak parameters such as C02 concentration, humidity, nutrients and temperature, as well as the length of the growing day and subsequent rest period, in order to identify the ideal conditions that will maximize the yield, nutritional value and visual appeal of particular crops. Growers can then use this model of their proposed vertical farm to design and build the most effective installation for their business. 

The site features four tiers of Arize lit cropping racks in each room (a total of 780m of connected luminaires), offering a growing area of 114m². The facility also includes a recirculating hydroponics system, as well as advanced propagation and germination rooms. With one eye on the future, the vertical farm will also support the future integration of robotics and full automation. These features will enable STC to develop models that apply to the high care growing environments essential for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.  

The Light at the End of the Tunnel 

STC and Current’s new partnership has potential to shed light on how the food industry in the U.K. can grow high-quality food at a commercial scale through vertical farming. Once just a whimsical idea, successful vertical farming could be the answer to the growing demand for premium produce and high-quality ingredients for consumers as well as the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. 

Want to learn more about how you can work with Current to build your successful vertical farming operation?