Technology helps turn unused buildings into smart vertical farms

The platform helps farmers increase their yields by saving time and energy that used to be spent on machinery maintenance, staff management and pest control.

Finland-based ag-tech company iFarm has developed a platform called Growtune for smart, remote management of vertical farms. The solution literally brings life to the empty spaces through commercially scaled vertical farming, providing urban dwellers with access to fresh produce grown within walking distance of their front door.

Growtune’s technology involves using artificial intelligence and, when needed – drones, to help urban farmers manage every aspect of their work, from choosing which crops to grow to planning harvest schedules across multiple sites. The platform remotely manages a number of variables crucial to the success of the crop — from indoor microclimate to lighting and nutrient schedules and early detection of disease. As such, it helps farmers increase their financial and physical yields by saving time and energy that used to be spent on machinery maintenance, staff management and pest control.

“The main advantage of indoor farms is that you can be growing all year round, wherever you are,” explained iFarm co-founder and CEO Max Chizhov. “And you don’t need a special technologist or agronomist who knows how to use software or grow stuff.”

The iFarm team is looking for interest from anyone wanting to start an urban vertical farm. The company promotes networks of sustainable food-related businesses and provides support in a range of ways, from technology solutions to investment and retail opportunities.

Specifically, it currently helps customers create farms ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 square meters, with sites in Finland, Switzerland, the U.K., the Netherlands, Andorra, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

As companies rethink logistics and the environment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, self-contained urban farms hold growing appeal.

Takeaway

iFarm provides a technology that makes urban farming more efficient and easier to manage. The company's platform, called Growtune, can measure the size and weight of plants to help farmers modulate growing conditions. It uses computer vision to spot potential diseases, which helps growers avoid the use of chemical treatments. In some cases, the system adjusts the microclimate automatically, but it can also provide recommendations to staff.

Growtune also supports the use of drones equipped with computer vision to track the crops' growth and provide further data for the system's algorithm — to, ultimately, improve financial and physical yields for farmers.
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Action point

FOR PUBLIC OFFICIALS:
Supporting local urban farms is a good move for any politician. It not only supports local business development but also addresses environmental issues, with citizens being able to get locally produced fruits and vegetables. In addition, urban farming could put to good use the otherwise unused office or other space (buildings). Plus, let's not forget that in some parts of the world, it helps tackle food insecurity. All these factors put together provide a compelling picture that is relatively easy to sell to voters while helping the local government official score some political points along the way.

FOR BUSINESSES:
Starting an urban farm could be a good business under any circumstances, let alone during a recession when big(ger) buildings could be bought or rented out for less. Add a government subsidy to the mix, and you get an even better business model. Also worth adding is the fact that urban vertical farming reduces the volumes of required resources while at the same time reducing delivery times and cost. Plus, let's not forget that it tackles food insecurity which could be an important issue in some parts of the world.