Philips city farming innovation sheds light on the power of indoor production -

Philips city farming innovation sheds light on the power of indoor production

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Philips city farming innovation sheds light on the power of indoor production

Just a few weeks after the official opening of the new innovative GrowWise Research Center in the Netherlands, city farming marketing manager Marjan Welvaarts gives the lowdown on the large-scale indoor farming facility that could make its mark on the city farming revolution. Philips GrowWise

Built by electronic giants Philips, GrowWise Research Center is all about growing produce in clean, soil-free, chemical-free, virtually waterless, temperature- and air-controlled environments void of natural light and air.

The focus is on LED lighting to create the ideal 'grow recipe' tailor-made for certain fruit and vegetables, without compromising taste, quality, or shelf life. The objective is to demonstrate to the world how LED technologies can produce healthy, sustainable high yield crops in a large scale indoor farm virtually anywhere from January to December.

At the Eindhoven scientific testing ground, the cultivation process involves producing crops in small sealed and sterile interiors using multiple layer techniques to maximize space and production.

It features four-layered mechanized planting racks in each of its eight climate rooms giving a total growing surface of 234 square meters. Each layer has Philips GreenPower LEDs installed containing blue, red and far red LEDS formulated specifically for growing crops.

As LEDs produce less heat, they can be placed close to the plant for uniform illumination and light treatment can be fined tuned to best suit certain crops.

"We're growing plants in a multi-layered set up without daylight and only with LEDs and here we are learning more about how we can grow the plants in the best way," Welvaarts tells

"We have to understand how the total grow recipe works in the end and that's not only about which LEDs will be best, which color or light will work best, blue or red, but also the temperature, the air flow, carbon dioxide, fertilizer, substrate and so on.

"So at our facility we ask ourselves what we think works best and 'best' sometimes means the most kilograms per square meter, but it can also mean the highest dry rate. The higher the dry rate of the fresh produce means the shelf-life will be longer, so that could be another reason to find an optimal grow recipe."

Growing with a smaller footprint

Within the global fresh produce industry, much is written on the subject of how to feed the world’s ever-increasing population as the United Nations estimates it will surpass nine billion by 2050.

Governments are focusing efforts on reducing fresh produce import costs by developing home-grown alternatives. Alongside this, consumer trends move ever-more towards sustainability, organics and eco-friendly products. Fruit and vegetable purchases are motivated by a number of variables.

Sourcing precisely where produce comes from and knowing exactly how it was grown, detailed labeling and food mile conscious purchases are shaping the choices of shoppers worldwide.

According to Welvaarts, the mix of countries interested in the city farming concept of growing indoors using LED could be motivated by a wide variety of reasons.

"The project is partly about how the world is going to meet the needs of a growing population and how we are going to cut down on food miles and creating sustainable practices.

"These are the trends in the world right now as there are more and more people to feed and those people are more aware of what they eat and think about things like nutrients and where the produce is grown.

"On the other hand, people are moving to cities and are thinking about how to grow in the most sustainable way, so that means with less water and no pesticide use. I think we tick many of those boxes."

Take Japan for instance, where huge swathes of land remains unfit for agricultural production because of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, or the Middle East's lack of water resources and perhaps Russia's rejection of trading with the EU, alongside other European nations pledging to import less and grow more locally.

What is being grown?

Carbohydrate-rich produce like potatoes and rice may be some way off, but GrowWise does intend to produce these kinds of staples in the future. For now the focus is on leafy vegetables, tomatoes, strawberries and fresh herbs.

"We are starting with leafy greens because they are quite easy to grow and they have short cycles, but we are aiming to do more calorie-rich produce, higher carbohydrate vegetables and we do have a roadmap for this.

"We have done some tasting sessions with lettuce. I bought one at the grocery store and we grow the same variety as well and we did a comparative test and there is no difference in the taste at all."

The taste profile of produce is a key point as the GrowWise farm will also have to cater for differing global markets as well as appealing to a variety of consumers within the same country.

Welvaarts uses Japan as an example where younger consumers tend to opt for crunchy and crispy lettuce whilst the older generation like softer varieties.

It’s also about replicating what consumers are used to in terms of shape, color, flavor, texture and overall appearance by ultimately demonstrating city farming is a solution to global food supply.

It remains to be seen whether LED-driven city farming will feed the world, but Philips is certainly taking the concept to a whole new level with the GrowWise project.


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