The trial will be staged at Jones Food Company’s new research and development facility in Bristol, UK. If successful, the companies said it would extend the British strawberry season to 12 months of the year. Currently, British strawberries are only available March-November.
“Ensuring quality supply for our customers and allowing consumers to have delicious, fresh, healthy, British strawberries on shelves year-round are key priorities for us. The environmental impact is obviously really attractive too,” explained Nick Allen, Chief Executive Officer at Berry Gardens.
“British agriculture has traditionally been limited by seasonality, but this collaboration looks to get us to a point where UK consumers can buy fresh, homegrown strawberries from major retailers throughout winter and year round. We know the demand is there, and we’re working hard to make it a reality,” added James Food Company founder and CEO James Lloyd-Jones.
Clients have already expressed ‘significant interest’ in stocking vertically-grown strawberries, with the first crop likely in the winter of 2023, Berry Gardens revealed.
Ag tech for sustainable food system
Ag-tech company Jones Food Company is currently building the world’s largest vertical farm, on a site near Lydney in Gloucestershire. Speaking at the recent City Food Lecture, Lloyd-Jones said the company decided to tackle one of the biggest challenges in vertical farming – high energy use – from the get-go, building its business model on the foundation of green energy.
The vertical farming innovator will research growing Berry Gardens’ premium strawberry varieties hydroponically, meaning the berries will grow in water, without soil, with plants layered on top of each other in a series of tiers. Growing this way brings ‘huge sustainability benefits’ as it removes the need for pesticides, uses 95% less water and reduces food miles.
This sustainability proposition was an important consideration for Berry Gardens, Allen revealed. “Like most of the industry, we are actively looking for ways we can become more sustainable across our business and when technology offers realistic solutions, it is incumbent on us to pursue them with energy. What James and his team are doing already with herbs and salad leaves has proven the technology, and the advantages scale can bring, given their product is already selling into thousands of British stores every week.”
Food security and economic opportunity
Given the current strains on the supply chain, Lloyd-Jones suggested this approach – which reduces reliance on external inputs – can also help build food security and business stability. “Our food supply chain is under significant stress, rising costs of energy, fertiliser and our food are all regular and consistent stories, therefore vertical farming is undoubtedly a vital part of the UK’s farming future,” he predicted.
“Through this new partnership we will marry Jones Food Company’s world-leading technology and vertical farming experience with Berry Gardens’ excellence and knowledge in growing soft fruit to further answer the intensely pressing need for more sustainable forms of farming.”
Lloyd-Jones has lofty ambitions and believes Jones Food Company can supply the majority of the UK’s fresh produce needs in a matter of years.
“Vertical farming not only benefits the environment, but also the economy. The scale we offer is vital in order to create a cost base that allows us to deliver delicious produce to the masses. Our new facility, which will be the world’s biggest vertical farm, will open in late 2022 and we hope to see more to follow; we aim to supply 70% of the UK’s fresh produce within the next ten years, and adding berries is a key part of that plan.
“With Berry Gardens Growers, Britain’s best berry group, for this trial is a fantastic step on that journey.”