Vertical farming is often hailed as a solution for producing locally-sourced food in tight spaces (i.e. cities), but Valcent Products is taking the concept to an unlikely location: the zoo. Valcent’s first installation of its VertiCrop System, which will be completed by September in England’s Paignton Zoo, can produce over 11,000 heads of lettuce and other vegetable crops like red chard and mizuna every three to four weeks. The system is expected to cut animal feed costs for the zoo by over $150000 annually and act as an educational tool for the public.
“One thing the zoo has not been able to do is grow a variety of herbs that animals enjoy eating, like coriander and basal, said Chris Bradford, Valcent’s Managing Director. “For them to be able to source those herbs from another garden would cost an arm and a leg.” The VertiCrop System also purportedly increases crop yields by 20 times compared to traditional farming and cut water and nutrient requirements by 5 to 10%.
Despite yielding such abundant amounts of food, the system is surprisingly low-maintenance. VertiCrop has computerized controls to take care of irrigation and water supply, and plant trays are automatically loaded and unloaded by a conveyer system. There are some limitations–the system can’t grow root crops or big tomatoes–but Valcent hopes to make these crops available in future VertiCrop incarnations.
Minimal water requirements make the VertiCrop System attractive to desert-like areas in the Middle East and elsewhere. “We attended the International Horticultural Fair in Dubai in March and had over 70 inquiries,” Bradford said.
While the Paignton Zoo project isn’t yet complete, Valcent hopes to have 100 units in the marketplace a year down the line. That’s because the system, which costs approximately $412,000 for a 200 square meter unit, can be placed virtually anywhere–industrial sites, warehouses, and skyscrapers. If the VertiCrop System is as popular as Valcent hopes, expect to see more vertical farming companies pop up in the years ahead.