Illuminating the Farm of the Future – Jones Food Company Ltd. Partners with Current by GE for Next-Gen Food Production
This article was originally posted on currentbyge.com
- Horticultural lighting solution enables environmental benefits including 90% less water, 50% less fertilizer, reduced energy and carbon footprint
- High-care operation creates opportunities to redefine the future of global food, pharma and cosmetics with industrial scale production
- Clean room automation enables “no touch” harvesting versus an average of 13 human contact stages in conventional farming
- Project heralds the start of a long-term partnership with Jones Food Company Ltd. and wider ecosystem to research new ways to scale global food production to meet the needs of a growing population
Jones Food Company Ltd. is a prime example of the magic that can result from experts coming together with the vision, creative thinking and experience to tackle an old problem from a new angle. With a growing global population and limited farming resources sparking fears of diminishing nutritional returns, vertical farming – the practice of growing food inside warehouse-type buildings, using artificial light and advanced growth techniques like hydroponics where no soil is used – is seen by many as a potential lifeline. However, with the industry in its infancy, many vertical farms have failed to take the crucial step from small-scale, hobbyist production, to a commercially-viable industrial scale.
When James Lloyd-Jones (CEO), Dr Paul Challinor (CTO) and Gary Thorneycroft (CFO) came together to develop the idea of Jones Food Company, they knew that it would be crucial to make the facility as efficient and future-proof as possible. This meant that production not only had to be viable from a financial perspective but it also had to be environmentally sustainable. They also expanded their view of vertical farming’s potential, moving beyond food production, to considering the booming demand for premium, natural ingredients featured in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.
Lighting the heart of the farm
Before they had even identified a facility in which to build their enterprise, the co-founders of Jones Food Company knew they needed help on one crucial element and approached the experts at Current by GE for help. The complete lack of natural light inside a vertical farm presents an opportunity to completely control the light spectrum used.
Current by GE’s horticulture team has developed three Growth Spectrums based on the combination of different light wavelengths:
- Reproductive: to promote leaf coverage and fruit generation (with a greater proportion of red wavelengths)
- Vegetative: to promote plant structure and leaf mass (with a dominance of blue wavelengths)
- Balanced: to promote overall growth performance (offering a more balanced spectrum)
Jones Food Company’s Dr Paul Challinor worked closely with Current by GE to provide the most suitable solution for his needs, offering a balanced mix of red, blue and white LEDs that would be flexible and efficient enough to grow a strong, balanced plant. Different spectrums and mini growing rigs were tested on Dr Challinor’s property before the perfect set-up was identified.
Building the future in the heart of North Lincolnshire
The Jones Food Company team found their perfect site in the form of an old cold store in the heart of the UK’s North Lincolnshire countryside. A ready-made “empty box” once cleared, the site was ripe for conversion into a vertical farm, offering the size, height and infrastructure needed to power a futuristic installation. The property also offers space for future new-build expansion, allowing the operation to scale easily on the back of future success.
Offering a growing area of 5120m2 – the size of nearly 26 tennis courts, with growing racks stacked to a height of 11m – the team at Current by GE needed to design a lighting solution that would ensure every single plant would receive its own personal dose of optimal light to ensure consistent, uniform growth in intensive conditions. The final design saw 12.3Km of Current by GE’s Arize™ horticultural lighting solutions connected – nearly the length of 38 Eiffel Towers laid end-to-end!
Successfully producing food with a long shelf-life and high phyto-nutrient content (equal to or higher than that of conventional, land-grown plants) wasn’t the company’s only goal. By designing the facility as a high-care installation that meets exacting HACCP standards, Jones Food Company Ltd. will apply a fully-automated system to grow crops in ideal, clean conditions that meet the high quality standards of the wider pharmaceutical and cosmetics sectors. Unlike conventional farming, where crops typically come into human contact 13 separate times, the crops grown by Jones Food Company will have little to no human contact from seed to harvest. The Arize™ lighting is also IP66 UL Wet rated, meaning it can be easily cleaned and sanitised in situated to keep the growing area free of pathogens that can be found in other vertical and conventional farms. This also means that the crops can be grown free of pesticides and using 50% less fertiliser.
A commercially viable way to safeguard the environment Consumers today are faced with a dilemma. We all want the foods we enjoy to be available year-round and at a price we can afford but increasingly we are becoming aware of the serious environmental impact of our expectations – in the form of food miles and their associated carbon footprint. Once the Jones Food Company facility is up and running, it expects to produce 420 tonnes of leafy greens per year, to be sold in stores within the UK, dramatically cutting the food miles of salad and sandwich staples which are often shipped to UK consumers from around the world.
Proximity isn’t the only way that Jones Food Company is taking a lead in environmentally-responsible food production however. Vertical farms can be seen as high-cost facilities, with huge electricity bills generated by the lighting and cooling needs of the operation. While the Jones Food Company facility will initially draw power from the grid, the goal is to make the facility entirely self-sufficient through the use of solar panels. In addition, the Arize™ lighting solutions from Current by GE offer a power saving of approx. 33% as the luminaires not only consume less power but also generate less heat than other solutions, resulting in lower demand for cooling than other vertical farms. The facility will also use GE’s cloud-data system to monitor electricity usage from its LEDs and heating and cooling systems.
In addition to the energy savings through lighting, the facility will recycle water (using up to 90% less than conventional farming methods) and pump pure CO2 into the growing room, preventing it from being replaced by fresh air. This allows the plants to “breathe” in carbon dioxide at least 50% more efficiently than they would in a traditional greenhouse unit, turbo-charging the growth cycle for faster production.
Just the beginning
This facility is just the start of a long-term partnership between Current by GE, Jones Food Company Ltd and their ecosystem of partners. Together they will find new ways to scale global production and secure future supplies of high-quality food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic ingredients, in a way that reduces the environmental costs of vertical farming.