Interview With Sky Greens Vertical Farmer Jack Ng

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I saved this interview with Jack Ng, the innovative engineer behind Sky Greens, now Sky Urban Solutions, awhile ago and figured it would be good to share. This is an insightful look into one of the leaders of the vertical farming and plant factory movement and is a great follow up from one of this website’s cornerstone pieces: The First Vertical Farm Showdown: Why You Need to Know What’s Happening in Singapore.

Check out the full article in the Singapore Times hereJack Ng in his vertical farm

 

New Vertical Farming Crop: 200 Tonnes of Crabs

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As Spread factory pops 21,000 heads of lettuce out of its farm each day, we’re still looking for an answer to how vertical farms will supply more calorie dense food. While some envision potatoes, tomatoes, and rice as an eventual possibility, one entrepreneur in Sri Lanka is experimenting with something even better. In our second look at sea farming in the past few weeks, Seafood supplier Gills ‘N’ Claws Aquaculture is awaiting approval to do crab farming in a vertical farm in Neo Tiew Lane, specialising in Sri Lankan mud crabs.

Vertical Farming

From the article:

This system, the brainchild of Mr Suresh, took over two years to research and develop.

“Mud crabs are territorial and carnivorous. In 1 sq m, the advised stocking density is only three crabs,” he said. The same space in a vertical farm, he added, can house more than 30.

He added that a vertical farm could eventually lower the cost of Sri Lankan mud crabs, which are an expensive variety favoured for their larger claws.

Most of the crabs eaten here are imported. They can cost more than $30 a kg from wholesalers. Mr Suresh plans to sell his at $26 a kg.

While this system raises questions about concentrated animal feed operations and what exactly constitutes a vertical farm (is it a buzz word just getting tossed around because it has a good media hook?), it’s still amazing to see the this technology expand.

Read the whole original article here. Here’s another.

 

Most mechanized vertical farm?

New company Urban Barns claims its system “is the highest-density mechanized machine in vertical farming we’ve seen in the world.”

When I first read that, I wanted to learn more immediately.  It’s a bold claim, but it’s one that I’d be hesitant to validate.  It also begs the question as to whether or not mechanization, as an end unto itself, is even necessarily a good thing.  The bottom line is that success of a vertical farm is going to be determined by the ratio of inputs to outputs. Mechanization is only beneficial if it improves that ratio.

Urban Barns
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Farms that Float!

Not sure how we missed this story right when it came out…

Over at the ProVerticalFarm Twitter, we keep everyone up to date on the latest news on vertical farming.  It’s a good system: Google Alerts and Feedly keep us up-to-date and we share the best with you.

Despite that, one article slipped through the cracks, which is too bad, because it’s one of the most original concepts we’ve come across: Floating Responsive Agriculture (FRA).

Forward Thinking Architectures floating responsive agricultural tower

Forward Thinking Architecture’s floating responsive agricultural tower

Back in Singapore

We thought it would be at least a few more articles before we had to revisit Singapore.  But it seems the same conditions we talked about last time that make it important for vertical farming have inspired a whole new approach to the industry.

One reason FRA is unique because it developed out of indigenous technologies.  Though we’d be a bit weary to make any real assumptions out of this before exploring these cultures more thoroughly, think about FRA as farmscrapers on docks for now.

“Inspired by Singapore’s Floating Fish Farms of Jurong’s Fishery Port, we aim to create a territorial network of Vertical infrastructures located close to the city areas which can produce local, quality-controlled food,” says Forward Thinking Architecture, the firm behind the design.

Inside one of Singapore's traditional floating farms

Inside one of Singapore’s traditional floating farms

Instead of having to compete for high-priced land, Forward Thinking’s solution is simple: just build in the waters surrounding the island.  The shipping is still local, and by relying on real-time analytics (hence the “responsive), they can tune their production to only what is needed, reducing waste.

Something else to note about this design is the peculiar shape of the towers.  According to the architects, the “loop” minimizes shading ensuring more plants have access to natural sunlight.  We’d be curious to see how this affects structural stability and if this design would be too fragile for something floating in potentially choppy waters.  

The proposal has won awards in India and Spain, while the firm has already been recognized in Singapore with the FuturArc prize in 2013. You can check out their full video below.

The first vertical farm showdown: Why you need to know what’s happening in Singapore

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Singapore may be the most important country in the world for vertical farming right now.

Corporate giant Panasonic’s new project debuted just this week and challenges exactly what the country knows about its food supply.

Inside Panasonic's new urban vertical farm

Inside Panasonic’s new farm

This is a monster blog post, but there’s a lot of information synthesized here you won’t find anywhere else.  I’m going to walk you through why Singapore is important, then I’m going to show you what is happening there with Panasonic and another company called Sky Greens, and then I’m going to explain what that might mean for the evolution of urban vertical farming.

No scholar could come up with a better  hypothetical test case for vertical farming than the realities in Singapore.  Key conditions indicating the success or even the possibility of an industrial vertical farm include:

  • Dense and urban population (Singapore is an island a little more than 3 times the size of Washington, DC with a population of 5.6 million people.  Their population is 100% urbanized)
  • Production proximity to market (New, government-sponsored industrial parks allow companies to build their businesses on the island)
  • Existing infrastructure (Singapore is a developed, high-tech country whose purchasing power parity ranks 41st in the world)
  • Cheap energy (Energy is reliable and affordable, especially when supplemented with renewable resources)
  • Legislative Support (Singapore’s government not only has the laudable sustainability goals of 20% self-sufficiency in the coming years, but also established a 20 million dollar fund to boost domestic food production.  This helps enormously in the face of insane vertical farming start-up costs.)
  • Local Demand (Expensive imports from China and Japan currently fill Singapore’s supermarkets.  Singapore only produces 7% of the produce it consumes.)

Singapore embodies each of these conditions better than almost anywhere else on the planet and I’d be hard pressed to argue that what works here, in this first battleground, is not going to affect the rest of the vertical farming industry.  To see what might be working, let’s first look at the older of the two companies, Sky Greens.