Digital Farm were lucky enough to visit GreenTech 2019 in Amsterdam this year. Here is a write up of a Q&A we attended on one of the days which covers consumer acceptance of vertical farms.
The Panel (in order Left to Right)
Paal Elfstrum at Wheatfiel Garden
Leo Marcelis at Wageningen UR
Anne-Claire van Altvorst of InnovationQuarter
Tisha Livingston at Infinite Acres
The discussion was hosted by the Gus Van Der Feltz from Farmtechsociety.
What's next for vertical farming?
Paal: We have only scratched the surface of what we can do with crops in vertical farms. Reusable energy will certainly change the game when is comes to vertical farming, as the energy is currently very intense so there needs to be a movement to make it sustainable.
Leo: Further research needs to be made into particular ways of growing and more depth into growth protocols is required.
Tisha: We are still very early on in the industry, innovation and research. I think the most significant things that vertical farming will focus on are the health elements and consistency of produce.
How will vertical farming compete with arable produce?
Leo: They need to remain two different things. At the end of the day they are two very different systems, and it will come down to consumer preference over which system they prefer.
The market for vertical farming should promote consistency of produce.
GMO is not allowed and so arable farming can only go so far as to ensure suitability of their crops to their growing methods. Vertical farming however, allows for environmentally modified crops, and the benefit that this brings to the likes of yield and consistency overcomes some of the benefits that GMO would allow for.
Can you define local?
(Q asked by Dermot O'Regan from Grow Bristol)
Tisha: To me local means getting produce on the same day it has been harvested or at least the next day.
Paal: I would say we can define local as a days drive. Perhaps we could use QR codes, so consumers can make the decisions and track where they came from.
What is the role of government in vertical farming?
Annie: There are several levels of government, education and standards in regard to attention on the regulations that are there to stimulate the growth of the industry.
Tisha: The government needs to create a focus around food security and food supply. This is where vertical farming can come in and help support these factors.
Paal: The government should do more to promote farm to school programs and focus on the education of vertical farming. Kids currently think that food just comes from a store, there is no link to the earlier steps in getting it there, education is vital to help the industry.
Do you think consumers will pay more for vertical farming produce?
Leo: We need to focus on value cost. Vertical farming needs to prove the claim of being better. This should be done through extensive comparison between differently grown products.
Tisha: The industry needs to prove that vertical farming produce is different to arable farming and should be positioned as such when consumers are purchasing it. Vertical farming can, where there is nutrient deficiency in food, produce the food to a higher nutritional standard.
We should also focus on the need for standardization of vertical farming, so that the produce that is sold can be proved as being better.
We know what consumers want in a product but how do they feel about produce from vertical farms?
(Q asked by Louise Neilson - NutriWales Cluster lead, BIC Innovation)
Tisha: Consumers want taste and consistency from the research that I have done they do not care about the technology and where exactly it came from.
Our Thoughts on the discussion
It was interesting that the actual topic/theme of the discussion was not really discussed in the depth that was expected by the audience. Although, it can be well understood that indoor/vertical farming is an industry at its infancy, and consumer attitude has yet to be investigated in full. It is expected that variation in people options will be prevalent and shaped by their depth of understanding of vertical farming. It can be determined that most people are not aware of the advantages of CEA, but when they have been exposed to this knowledge, they can see the benefit in food security and food availability.
The panel discussion highlighted the importance of people in the industry to communicate and educate, the public/consumer about CEA. This is so that people do not associate the produce grown in vertical farms being GMO and instead understand that the produce can be even healthier and more environmentally sustainable compared to that of conventional growing methods. It certainly seems as though consumer attitudes and perception of vertical farming should be further researched.