A multi-million pound investment to create the world’s largest vertical farm in Gloucestershire underlines the county’s position as a leader in the agritech sector, according to an expert.
Ben Thompson, of Hartpury College and Hartpury University, said the investment by Jones Food Company (JFC) highlighted how new technology was transforming commercial agriculture and farming.
Mr Thompson is agritech project and industry engagement manager at Hartpury, which has been backed by GFirst LEP to develop itself as a catalyst for agri-tech firms with market-ready solutions.
Only last month, in September 2021, Hartpury officially started work on its Digital Innovation Farm Tech Box Park, which will provide space and business support to help emerging agritech businesses grow.
‘People hear a lot about new technology in farming and how it will one day be transformative. We are working hard to bring together businesses with viable solutions with farmers and show they how they can work for them now,’ said Mr Thompson.
‘To have this new investment in the county is a great example of agritech at work on a massive scale and helps underline how these are real-world solutions which can work commercially.
‘We are hoping to make contact with the business to potentially work with it as some point in the future.’
Gloucestershire also boasts Farm491, the UK based agritech incubator and innovation space at Royal Agricultural University.
Jones Food Company, which already operates Europe’s largest vertical farm near Scunthorpe, is building a 148,000sq ft vertical farm in Lydney, Gloucestershire.
When completed the firm said it would be the world’s largest, ‘approximately the same size as almost seventy tennis courts and able to supply 1,000 tonnes plus of fresh produce to thousands of UK supermarkets’.
James Lloyd-Jones, founder of Jones Food Company, said: ‘We already supply thousands of British retail stores with basil grown in our first facility in Lincolnshire, but this new site, which is three times bigger, will allow us to supply tens of thousands more stores and to widen our product offer with our partners.’
The vertical farm is expected to be open in early 2022. Jones Food Company said it could be in a position to support 70 per cent of the UK’s fresh produce within the next 10 years.
It would not comment on how many jobs it expected the Forest of Dean farm to create.
By Andrew Merrell