M&S showcases vertical farming at London store
Marks & Spencer (M&S) has installed vertical farming technology at one of its busiest London stores, in a bid to engage shoppers with the ways in which farmers are innovating in light of climate challenges.
Operated by urban farming firm Infarm, the new facility was unveiled at M&S’s Clapham Junction store in south-west London on Thursday (12 September).
The unit uses 95% less water and 75% less fertiliser than traditional soil-based agriculture and is capable of producing the same amount of product as 400sqm of farmland.
Infarm operates the unit using internet of things (IOT) technology and machine learning, in order to ensure that the plants receive the optimum amount of air, light and nutrients while maintaining energy and water savings. It is remotely controlled using a cloud-based platform, but Infarm farmers will visit the store at least twice a week to harvest and to add new seedlings.
The farm is being used to grow six varieties of fresh herbs, which shoppers will be able to purchase for £1.20 per bunch.
M&S has already invested in six additional vertical farming units from Infarm, which will be installed at other London stores in the coming months. Exact locations and timings are yet to be confirmed.
“We operate as part of a complex global food supply chain and want to understand the emerging technologies that could help provide more sustainable solutions, whilst also delivering fantastic products with exceptional taste, quality and freshness for our customers,” M&S’s director of food technology Paul Wilgoss said.
“Infarm’s innovative farming platform is a fantastic example of what can happen when passionate agricultural, food and technology experts work together.”
Onwards and upwards
M&S claims that it is the first UK supermarket to host Infarm technology in its stores.
However, vertical farming is undeniably gaining traction within other parts of the food sector. Last year, argitech firm Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) unveiled Scotland’s first vertical farming facility – and the UK’s largest – in Perthshire. The early results seem promising, with the farm producing yields around 200% higher than a traditional greenhouse of the same size.
Elsewhere, Ikea began selling vertical farming kits to UK customers at the launch of its new store in Greenwich earlier this year. The store is touted as its “most sustainable” UK location to date – evidencing the company’s shift towards circularity and ‘climate-positivity’.
These moves come at a time when WWF is estimating that land use and sustainable agriculture could provide up to 30% of the solutions needed by 2030 to tackle the global climate crisis. Similarly, the IPCC’s recent report on land use confirmed that farming was a key cause of humanity’s “misuse” of land, and, therefore, a key component in building climate adaptation and mitigation systems.
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Very interesting story, but lacking a couple of key points: 1. What is the comparable price for that bunch of produce, from traditional sources? and 2. What is the capital investment required for this installation, and is that costed in, along with the energy use, in the selling price?
Supermarkets are famous for loss leaders. Is this any more than a way of getting positive publicity? The idea of this sort of farming has been around for decades, but has never taken off – for very good reasons!