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Luke solved the challenge of vertical growing of high-wire crops

Climate change will increase the variability of weather conditions and weather risks around the world will increase. Vertical or layer farming is proposed as one of the key solutions to provide food for an ever-growing world population. Profitable and scalable vertical farming systems are available mainly for lettuce and herbs. Modular and vertical farming solutions for high-wire crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes and beans are not yet on the market. Luke has developed a unique solution for growing tall crops in a vertical system.

Vertically farmed cucumbers. Photo: Titta Kotilainen

Cucumbers lying down in layers

The starting point for the concept of vertical farming of high-yielding crops is an invention developed at Luke, which has been patented. The method was tested at the Piikkiö research station. The development of the vertical cultivation solution for high production crops was initiated with the help of strategic funding from Luke and the Rikala Foundation, and continued with further Research to Business funding from Business Finland. The project brought together expertise in greenhouse production and commercialisation. 

The research facility prototype was provided by High Metal Oy. The plants are grown horizontally on support rods and several layers can be stacked on top of each other. The solution is modular and scalable. The trials found that the solution allows optimised use of exposure, resulting in more efficient energy use. Luke's solution reduces the need for manual labour through automation.

The cucumber, which grows tall, grows horizontally in several layers. The new method allows optimised use of light. Photo: Titta Kotilainen

Commercialising the vertical farming concept

Vertical farming in plant factories enables food production in areas where, for example, open field or traditional greenhouse farming is not possible due to climatic conditions. Vertical farming technologies offer solutions to the growing demand for clean, sustainable and locally produced food. Production is also possible in conditions where arable land or water resources are limited.

Production is also possible in conditions where arable land or water resources are limited.

During the project, the commercialisation opportunities and routes for the vertical farming concept were prepared. This work has formed the basis for the broader design of Luke's approach to commercialisation of inventions and spinoffs.

Plant factories can produce food locally and efficiently around the clock and all year round

There is still no solution and technology on the market that would allow for the cost-effective cultivation of climbing and high-yielding crops such as cucumbers or beans in the plant nursery and, above all, in the greenhouse. The new production method developed by Luke's researchers provides a solution and creates new business opportunities. 

Thanks to the closed growing environment, climate-independent plant factories enable purity and safety of crop products, control of weather and weather risk, production efficiency and uniformity.  

"Plant factories can produce food locally and efficiently around the clock and year round. Technology and automation need to be further developed so that the production of different crops can become more common in plant factories in a profitable and sustainable way," says Titta Kotilainen, Project Manager and Luke's senior scientist.