Easing food supply concerns

Sprout Stack is an Australian, agricultural technology start up that brings farming within the city limits. It’s Australia’s only commercial-scale vertical farm and represents the future of farming.

Said to be able to grow produce faster than traditional farming methods and get this to people quickly, 365 days a year, the innovative startup is one of the best answers we have to the question of how we’re going to solve the pressures facing food production and supply chain.

Comprised of recycled shipping containers housed inside a converted urban warehouse, Sprout Stack grows mixed salads and leafy greens in a controlled environment, using a hydroponic system to deliver water and nutrients and LEDs that act as the sun.

According to Chief Executive Officer Hugh McGilligan, not only does their technology yield tastier produce, it also is helping solve a major issue facing the fresh produce industry – waste.

“Traditional farming and food delivery networks are massively resource intensive and wasteful. A lot of the food that is grown never even makes it to the table. According to the UN, 40 per cent of harvested food is wasted and that goes up to 70 per cent for leafy vegetables,” said McGilligan.

McGilligan says Sprout Stack’s produce is fresher and therefore more nutritious than produce from traditional farms because it is able to largely eliminate food miles.

“From the moment of harvest, the nutritional quality of fresh produce declines rapidly. Now more than ever, people are looking for ways to boost health and immunity and fresh produce is absolutely a way to help do this. Sprout Stack averages 16 hours from harvest to store, so produce tastes better and is nutritionally superior,” he said.

Vertical farming is both highly efficient and sustainable. The whole process uses far less land, water and fertiliser and absolutely no pesticides, herbicides or other nasty agrichemicals.

The controlled environment within each container mimics a perfect summer’s day, taking variable weather conditions that affect traditional outdoor farms, out of the equation. As a result, plants are ready to harvest 40 per cent faster than traditional growing speeds.

Each container equates to approximately one hectare of farmland but uses only five per cent of the water and 20 per cent of the fertiliser.

Demand for fresh produce is higher than ever, and Sprout Stack’s hyper-local approach means it is in a position to grow more and get on the shelves faster.

The startup is currently delivering around a quarter of a tonne of mixed salad every week to supermarkets and is on track to expand. At the end of 2019 it moved into a new warehouse to accommodate a larger, more automated and efficient production process. It is also working with the Future Food Systems CRC and University of NSW to help design their new operations and assist expansion.

“Vertical farms didn’t even exist only ten years ago, but interest and investment in the category has exploded,” said McGilligan. “The future of farming needs to be enormously more sustainable. By bringing farming closer to the people who need it, vertical farming provides a necessary solution and one of the best answers to how we’re going to feed our growing population.”