Strawberry growing is becoming big business. Associated with one of the biggest sports events in the world, currently in full flight, this juicy red fruit will soon be available all year round on a supermarket shelf near you. This is due to the incredible developments in AgTech innovation we’ve seen over the past few years, something which will continue to evolve as the CEA industry booms.
We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of the automation capabilities and the potential in sensor and lighting technologies which are coming to the fore, as we look at more efficient and sustainable ways of farming fresh produce.
Back to the business of strawberries. So, how is sustainable tech helping to improve their quality and flavour?
Take Vodafone’s IoT technology. The comms giant is helping exclusive strawberry supplier to Wimbledon Hugh Lowe Farms grow its crops, as 1.5 million of the little gems will be delivered to SW19 during the fortnight. Through a solution called MYFARMWEB, the technology can track each load heading for Wimbledon to monitor and provide feedback on temperature, collisions and vibrations in the packaging. The data collected by the cloud-based platform also helps the farm make better decisions on how to apply controls to protect its strawberries – meaning better and more sustainable growing conditions, resulting in a higher quality of fruit. It also improves farm productivity and optimises farming practices, helping lower greenhouse emissions.
It also states that “The usage of new innovative technologies such as IoT sensors and AI driven machinery is increasingly becoming a key part of food production and the logistics of getting goods to suppliers.” At LST HQ, we couldn’t agree more.
Other advancements are also bearing fruit, so to speak. Berry, Organifarm’s harvesting robot for strawberries, was first unveiled to the public at GreenTech in Amsterdam. After two years of development, the market-ready robot can store up to eight crates for increased overall harvesting speed – that’s around 40 kilograms of fruit before being emptied.
Through its ability to autonomously navigate through greenhouses and switch rows, it provides high precision to quality-check each fruit before harvesting, after which the strawberries are directly weighed and placed into punnets. Harvesting time is cut further thanks to its efficient storage system, meaning Berry doesn’t have to return to a base as such to empty the punnets.
And it’s not just the UK and Europe which are leveraging AgTech for growing strawberry crops. Our international friends are also championing its benefits, as they seize the opportunities in indoor farming by promising to grow strawberries all year round. And not just any strawberries either – these aim to be fresher, cheaper, and even eco-friendlier, as it prepares to open of one of the world’s largest vertical farms.
Already, the US-based facility can grow a full lettuce in 10 days, using LED lights and robots – some “15 to 20 times faster than the field”. The opening of its vertical farm will enable it to expand into tomatoes and strawberries.
What’s more, LST is in the midst of its very own three-month strawberry trial at its onsite laboratory in Derby, as its helps shape the perfect plant recipe for indoor farmers and growers.
PhD student Kellie Smith is overseeing the trial as she joins the award-winning AgTech brand, on a placement through the University of Nottingham, LST’s academic partner. “We’re using previous data – an optimised light recipe – which we’ve taken forward for this new trial and simply changed the light levels,” she explains. “We want to see through providing less light, or energy, if we can improve growth, optimise yield and ultimately, quality of the strawberry. At a time of rising energy costs, cost savings and profit are crucial for growers. Flavour is also of course extremely important to consumers.”
It is only a matter of time before we see what other major advancements in farming AgTech will serve up. Watch this space!