What are vertical farms? World's largest vertical farm comes to Gloucestershire

A business has opened ‘the world’s most advanced vertical farm’ in Gloucestershire. Credit: JFC

The world’s largest vertical farm has been set up in Gloucestershire.

The Jones Food Company set up the farm called JFC2 in Lydney two years ago.

The business grows a dozen different types of herbs and salad brands indoor in its Growing Room.

What is a vertical farm?

Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers indoors rather than in traditional horizontal fields.

As the crops are grown in vertical layers, less land space is needed.

For example, JFC2 has the equivalent of 70 tennis courts of growing space and the company’s founder and CEO, James Lloyd-Jones, says it’s an efficient process.

He said: "From an environmental perspective, vertical farming allows us to grow in 17 layers, so every acre becomes 17 times more productive.

"It allows us to grow entirely without pesticides and using 95% less water. And it means we can significantly reduce the air and road miles of the foods we grow.

"Our second farm is in Gloucestershire because it is well located for us in terms of distribution centres and customers.

"There’s a good motorway network, strong labour candidate pool, and there are established growers of a variety of produce in that area so the skillset is established in the area which we can lean on."

  • Watch the inner workings of Jones Food Company's farm

How do vertical farms work?

As the crops are indoors, artificial lighting and controlled environments are used to produce a high yield.

It means growth doesn’t rely on the weather and can therefore be produced all year round rather than depending on the seasons.

Oli Kaberry, Chief Operations Officer at Jones Food Company, said: "We can stack our acre vertically thereby maximising the land efficiency.

"We use hydroponics as part of our methodology which means we grow without soil but with a nutrient-rich solution.

"With the controlled environment agriculture that we’ve created, we have been able to carve out a niche over the years making lab conditions in a huge warehouse space.

"That has enabled us to grow leafy greens like green lettuces, mizuna, bulls blood, kale, and herbs like basil, dill, coriander, parsley."

How does it compare to traditional farms?

Vertical farms can produce high yields all year round but operate with high running costs.

The costs come from controlling lights, temperature, carbon dioxide levels, and water in the Growing Room.

"In terms of the efficiency of growing, this is really where vertical farming comes into its own," he added.

"As an example we are able to grow green lettuce within 15 days whereas outdoor you may only have two or three growing cycles per year.

"We can have that replicability of that harvest per annum to maximise our efficiency.

"Having those high yields justifies the running costs that we are impacted by.

"Overall we have higher costs than an outdoor grower but we’re able to be profitable by achieving those yields and that’s what makes us able to keep the lights on.

"The costs have heightened especially since the 2022 energy spike and the prices we witnessed were pretty monumental but we are working back down to a better level which makes it a better model for us."

Plans for the future

Vertical farms are discussed as a viable option for the future of food production given the commitment to use renewable energy.

As climate change causes more extreme weather events, crop production can vary significantly on a yearly basis.

Oli adds that he hopes vertical farms can be scaled up in future to help promote sustainable farming.

He says: "Our growing system is basically focused on helping to work through the climate crisis and food shortages.

"We are using renewable energy to be as clean as possible and have little impact on the environment.

"We also grow 365 days a year so we are consistently delivering to our customers so we are mitigating spikes caused by the climate system.

"We are making a measurable impact and there’s a bright future ahead of us.

"The team and I are excited to be in this industry and to be facing some of the biggest challenges of our generation."