Four Vertical Farming Systems...

…and their functions

In our recent social media series “Ross’s Routine”, Ross McKellar, CHAP’s Research Assistant at the Innovation Hub for Controlled Environment Agriculture (IHCEA), shared information about the vertical farming systems at the facility. The series spanned five weeks, with each week focusing on a different vertical farming system. Throughout the series, Ross introduced the different types of vertical farming systems and explained how they function and how they are helping agriculture.

1. The Innovation Hub for Controlled Environment Agriculture (IHCEA)

We kicked off our Ross’s Routine series by introducing the Innovation Hub for Controlled Environment Agriculture (IHCEA) facility, run by CHAP partner Liberty Produce at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee.

The IHCEA seeks to transform the way we think about technology applications in the agricultural industry. With control over temperature, lighting and nutrient delivery, it is possible to bring out the best qualities in crops and help develop new methodologies to increase yields and reduce overall operational costs in vertical farming. 

Ross’s responsibility is testing the state-of-the-art vertical farming system’s capabilities to grow vegetable crops, including microgreens and babyleaf salads, in a totally-controlled environment.

2. Ebb and Flood

The second week of Ross’s Routine focused on the Ebb and Flood Vertical Farming System.

This system is used in research to test new technology and develop techniques that make vertical farming more diverse, sustainable and low cost.

A carefully balanced nutrient solution, managed with an automated nutrient delivery system, floods large trays holding crops which, after providing a nutrient boost, slowly ebbs away to be filtered and sterilised before the next cycle. It can be activated several times a day, balancing nutrient and oxygen delivery to the roots.

Products that are typically grown in the system include baby salad leaves and microgreens.

3. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The next vertical farming system that was highlighted was the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT).

The system is used to research novel technology and create methodology to enhance plant morphology, photo metamorphosis, growth rate, biochemical composition and root development.

Plants are placed in long horizontal gullies where a thin film of nutrient solution, dosed via an automated nutrient delivery system, moves on a slope. The roots are never fully submerged, allowing the system to deliver optimal dose of both nutrients and oxygen to the roots.

This is a hydroponic system that grows plants such as salads, tomatoes and strawberries, in individual pots.

It also serves as a great system to test and build camera setups, used for experiments such as time lapses and morphology measures. 

4. Deep Water Culture

Week four of the series focused on the Deep Water Culture vertical farming systems.

This is one of the most commonly used hydroponics systems among commercial growers. It is typically used to grow leafy greens and herbs.

For this system the plant samples are placed on a floating raft technology, either in individual pots or on custom made trays for mat format plant products. The plant roots are constantly submerged in a nutrient solution in a grow tank, which is routinely refreshed and recycled by an automated dosing system.

The large volume of nutrient solution makes this system less prone to fluctuations in chemical composition and it is ideal for testing nutrient solution mixes, additives and innovative technologies such as nanobubble generators. 



5. Supernova Lights

For our final vertical farming system in the series, Ross chose the Supernova lighting system.

The SuperNova lighting system can meet the needs of any crop thanks to dynamic spectral control and the efficient, powerful and controllable LEDs.

Controlled using a mobile phone app, four LED channels can be adjusted to adapt the wavelengths of blue, red and far red in addition to full spectrum white light.

Adaptive lighting can be tested to observe effects on the chosen plant samples, pigmentation shifts, yield increases and reduced system growth time.

Find out more about Ross’s work by visiting the Innovation Hub for Controlled Environment Agriculture page.

If you have any questions about working with CHAP, please send us an email using the enquiries form at the bottom of our homepage.


Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.