Cloud tech tapped for urban greenhouses: ‘This is the return of small farms’

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iFarm Project
© iFarm Project

Related tags: vertical farming, Organic, urban farming

An urban farming business that develops modular, automated greenhouses for the city environment says it is looking to expand beyond Russia into EMEA markets.

iFarm Project employs next-generation technology to build automated urban farming units in urban areas. The Russia-headquartered firm, founded in 2017, boasts six greenhouses and vertical farms in Moscow and Novosibirsk.

The company today (12 February) announced it has raised $1m (€885m) to expand its mission of producing organic vegetables, salads and berries year-round, around the world.

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© iFarm Project

“The investments from this round will be used to develop technology and expand our team, including our engineering, construction and agro projects teams, as well as to pilot the technology on the European market,” ​said iFarm CEO Alexander Lyskovsky.

Indeed, the firm said it plans to enter Europe, the Middle East and Africa over the next five years, before targeting Asia and the Americas.

The rise of the vertical farm

The vertical farming market is expected to expand by 25% by 2024, to reach a value of €11.4bn, according to Global Market Insights.

“Vertical farming is a sustainable agricultural initiative and holds promise for communities struggling with chronic food security problems,” ​research analyst Aomalya Chakroborty previously told FoodNavigator.

“With the global population crossing the 7.5 billion mark in 2017 and continuous growing urbanisation rate, the share of arable land per person has witnessed a gradual decline over the past few years. This trend is likely to continue over the coming years driven by the irregular weather and deteriorating environmental conditions.” 

Plug-and-play tech

iFarm’s urban crop production technology targets small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to optimise space in warehouses, workshops, rooftops and building spaces.

The modular units employ plug-and-play technology connected to a cloud-based management system, with growing recipes available to download from a centralised database.

“This is a bit like lego, where you have cubes in different sets and they all fit together,” ​Lyskovsky told FoodNavigator.

“In our vertical farms, all the elements easily integrate with each other - they can be assembled in almost any form factor for the required size of the room, its height and the composition of landings you require.”

The technology automates a number of processes, including sowing, climate control (temperature, humidity, Co2), and light control, and uses machine learning to help save electricity and water use.  

iFarm is also working on automating harvesting processes, a feature that will become available in the next months, we were told.

Growing an organic, pesticide-free market

The company boasts a pesticide-free, organic production method. “To achieve this, we ensure the complete sterility of the room and filtration of external air,” ​said Lykovsky. “All the people in the farm work in special uniforms. We teach our partners how to follow these rules and help to debug these processes.”

In the long-term, iFarm said this kind of pesticide-free technology could disrupt the importing business, by reducing the need for fresh vegetables, berries and greens from other regions and countries.

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© iFarm Project

“This is the return of small farms - only with the new technology and in the city areas,” ​said Lykovsky.

For the time being, however, iFarm is focusing on vegetables only. “We have not thought about fruits yet, but we work a lot on vegetables in our experimental greenhouses - tomatoes, cocktail cucumbers, peppers and others.

“For now, we supply only salad modules to the market and will soon start delivering strawberries.”

Timed freshness

Once cultivated, iFarm ensures that delivery to sales outlets collects the produce within one hour.

“This is our goal when planning new points for cultivation,”​ explained Lyskovsky.

“We want delivery to occur quickly and therefore we plan several of them around and within each major city. Since the installation of small farms for greenery occurs fairly quickly, we will build up the network as there are buyers among the shops and cafes.”

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