Five things vertical farmers need to know...
Kate Brunswick, Strategic Relationship Manager at CHAP Member Innovation Agri-Tech, has learnt a lot as the company applied for a Food Standards certification. Here she shares some of the key points for other vertical farmers who may be thinking of following a similar path.
Vertical Farming (VF), is a relatively new commercial growing system, which can seem strange or alien to consumers. It is important that both retailers and consumers are confident that food grown within a VF facility is produced with passion and commitment to hygiene, security and safety. Growers and retailers also need to educate consumers about the benefits of VF, such as the fact that food grown in vertical farming systems not only uses less water than traditional broadacre farming, but also minimises pest and disease risk, reducing the need to use crop protection chemicals.
There are many certification schemes available that could be appropriate for a vertical farming enterprise and the produce grown in it. There are those specific to certain retailers or wider schemes such as Red Tractor, Global GAP, or LEAF Marque Standard. All are slightly different, have their own merits and offer certification in different ways. Red Tractor covers everything from responsible antibiotic and pesticide use to water safety, while LEAF Marque is an environmental assurance system recognising more sustainably farmed products, and as such can be used alongside a food certification scheme. Every grower will have different priorities, so it is important to understand the benefits of each scheme and how well they might fit with your own requirements. It is important to decide which features are the best fit for your own business.
Vertical Farming is a small community, and consumer trust and knowledge is still a work in progress. A certification mark on paperwork and packaging shows commitment, to both retailers and consumers, that the producer knows their business. It shows they have a proven process to grow its produce from seed to commercial specification in an environment that means the final product does not pose a risk to the consumer. Hand on heart it tells consumers that ‘our food is safe’. And that claim is backed up by the paperwork from a recognised and respected accreditation programme to prove it.
The answer to this question is that any company looking to gain the marque gets there through hard work, reading, understanding, commitment, tenacity and no small investment of time. You need to allocate an individual on site who understands the protocol, why it is necessary and who will ‘own’ the paperwork. But while there is no quick fix, no easy way around the requirements and necessary due-diligence, that is exactly what makes the achievement worth it in the end. The greatest challenge…? Well, defining how working in controlled environments make us farmers. Are we producers? Are we packers? Where does Controlled Environment Agriculture fit in, especially when some of the schemes will have been designed for broadacre farming and packing house methods? Where are the risks – IAG has no use for chemicals, we don’t use herbicides or pesticides?
Longevity! We are here for the long haul. Our work, ongoing, to gain this audit, says ‘we mean it’. We want our clients from consumers to technology buffs, to know we are committed, dedicated and diligent and that what we grow is safe.
Here at Innovation Agri-Tech, we decided that Red Tractor was the most appropriate scheme for us, partly due to its wide acceptance in the market. The recognisable logo is a nod in the direction of consumer trust in terms of good growing practice. An added benefit for IAG was that once the Red Tractor audit is awarded, we will also automatically be eligible to use the Global GAP marque (a trademark and a set of standards for Good Agricultural Practice). The process of applying for certification, has shown that (in our experience) Red Tractor is working hard to include all types of farming, and to make sure CEA does not slip through the cracks, with a range of useful templates and checklists for applicants.
Innovation Agri-Tech Group (IAG) is a British agricultural technology company that provides cutting-edge solutions to the traditional challenges of farming. It owns and operates one of the largest indoor vertical farms in the UK, as well as offering a variety of patented products and expert services to help other companies, providing optimal conditions for healthy crops to grow and flourish, with a focus on sustainability and accessibility.
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