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UK supermarket invests £17m in photonics-enabled vertical farming

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UK supermarket Ocado has invested £17 million in vertical farming, by acquiring a major stake in Europe's largest vertical farm and establishing a joint venture with two vertical farming companies. 

Vertical farming, which relies on light, robotics and artificial intelligence to grow crops indoors on a series of stacked levels in a controlled environment, could allow food to be grown closer to Ocado's distribution centres. This will reduce the distance fresh fruit and vegetables need to travel and therefore prolong freshness. The farming method also uses less water and produces less waste than traditional farming.  

Ocado has acquired a 58 per cent stake in Jones Food Company (JFC), Europe’s largest operating vertical farm, based in Northern England. JFC’s facility is currently producing greens and herbs for UK customers with its capacity expected to grow to 420 tonnes per annum. With more than 5,000 square metres of production area and 12 kilometres of LED lights, JFC has the ability to produce consistent crop yields throughout the year. 

The supermarket has also signed a memorandum of understanding to create a three-way joint venture with US-based 80 Acres Farms and Dutch firm Priva, each a leading participant in the vertical farming industry. 80 Acres and Priva have been working together for more than years to design solutions to sell to vertical farming clients worldwide, with forecast revenues in 2019 of over $10 million and the expectation of significant growth beyond. The venture will be called 'Infinite Acres'.

'Infinite Acres' mission is in perfect alignment with global sustainability needs as our planet grows to 10 billion people by mid-century, with most living in urban areas. We can develop optimal environments in which plants and food crops experience the best way to grow indoors, using leading-edge technology and solutions which result in substantially lower energy and water use, as well as reducing food waste,' said Meiny Prins, CEO of Priva. 

Priva is a leading industrial systems provider to the horticultural industry based in the Netherlands, with a wide range of technologies for climate control and process automation. Its indoor growing solutions include dimmable and dynamic LED lighting to promote optimised growth.

80 Acres provides plant science knowledge and operations management based in Ohio, and Ocado is a leading global technology provider bringing innovative software and hardware systems, including robotics and automation, digital twinning and machine learning/AI. Each partner will hold one third of the join venture's equity.

Image: Priva

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