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Hello <<First Name>>,
 
Last weekend, experts, business people and enthusiasts gathered in Bejing and shared their experience, knowledge and visions about Vertical Farming. Moreover they talked, discussed and inspired each other to keep going and do even better. In this newsletter you will be provided with a short overview about the AVF Summit and the latest international developments in the field of Vertical Farming.

Warning: you will be inspired.
Session I

Vertical Farming Business Cases

One of the biggest challenges in Vertical Farming is its economical feasibility. Therefore it is not a surprise that all over the world, different kinds of Vertical Farming organizations are studying or applying different types of business cases. Dr. Toyoki Kozai opened this session. As the chief director of the Japan Plant Factory Association and leader for it's R&D on PFAL's for commercial use, he had some very interesting things to say (PFAL = Plant Factories with Artificial Lighting). There are a lot of profitable PFAL's in Japan and the number is rising rapidly. Dr. Kozai and his team used the abundant data to design procedures and plans to make the PFAL's even more efficient. He introduced the simple, yet effective formula on which they base their systematic processes: Resource Use Efficiency (RUE) = Plants as Produce divided by Resources (such as water, light, seeds, labour,...).




Next up was Maximilian Loessl, one of our most famous AVF-members. He talked about home farming to 
industrial farming. His German company, agrilution (the main sponsor of the event)  has designed a small scale home system and is working on full scale industrial system. He believes that nowadays for a bigger commercial farm to be financially sustainable, it needs to concentrate on high value crops. Dai Jian Feng from Philips (who were among the sponsors of the event) offered one of the solutions in the form of LED-lighting. Their systems are becoming more efficient every day and they have many successful Indoor-farming clients to prove it. Jack Ng from Sky Greens shared his design philosophies and told us on how he overcame a lot of the challenges Vertical Farming poses. Jack promoted the use of renewable energies and emphasized the fact that vertical space is almost unlimited.


At the end the session a panel discussion with the first speakers was held. It was a very enriching discussion and everybody agreed that there is a lot of potential for Vertical farming in China. An interesting view on regulation arose when Jack Ng told an inquirer from the audience that it's difficult for the regulator to know what is allowed in Vertical Farming and what is not. And so he unintentionally initiated the discussion for the third session, so more on that later.

Maybe the most interesting question posed to the panel was this one: "Why does it take so long for Vertical Farming to take off? What are the barriers?" Again Jack Ng wisely answered that from a business point of view, he encounters unforeseen problems everyday. And he believes that accounts for everyone in Vertical Farming - the other panel members nodded in agreement.


Session II

Technological Developments in Vertical Farming

 
Before the start of this session we got a guided tour of the AVF Summit venue by IEDA: The National Agriculture Science and Demonstration Park (Agrigarden). It was a great time for everyone to get to know each other better and gaze upon the huge amount of Vertical Farming systems that were displayed and tested at the park. The tour proved that China is undoubtedly very serious about Vertical Farming.



Wen Tao from IEDA talked about VF'ing and controlled environment Agriculture in China. He introduced us to a big masterplan by IEDA for the efficient use of land. The segment about agriculture used many different types of technology and would have many visitors, yes, this big plan would rely on VF-tourism to succeed. Second to talk was the one and only youtube star the Vertical Farming movements has: Dr. Nathaniel Storey from Bright Agrotech. He advocated for re-designing hydroponic systems. According to him, the problems with traditional layered VF'ing are numerous: There's not enough ventilation, labor conditions are bad, there's a low space use efficiency ratio and plant health and productivity can be better. Yes, we too were a little bit confused and wondered if he was talking about Indoor farming. Yet it seems that Dr. Nate goes for perfection as he gave the example of the Zipgrow towers and the solutions it provides, simply by design. To conclude his talk Dr. Nate emphasized transparency, he said it adds value to your product and trust and loyalty to your company.
 


Last speaker of this session was Prof. Yang Qichang of CAAS (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences) who talked about the current situation of Vertical Farming technology in China. He gave many energy-saving developments such as LED systems that gradually move upward while the plants grow and temperature control-systems that use outside air. He was also a big fan of reusing old buildings and small in-home Vertical Farms for families. To conclude he let us know that China is the place to be as there are so many projects starting and that cooperation with the West is necessary

The discussion panel, composed of the above speakers and Martin Veenstra from Certhon, got some very interesting questions. The most important one being: How can technological developments make vertical farming produce less expensive than traditional produce? The answer was unanimous: "All costs about Vertical Farming must come down and (Vertical) Farming must become more multi-purpose". Selling produce can be combined with for example recreation, education and sightseeing. 



Session III

Urban Planning, Architecture and Policies for Vertical Farming

 
The first speaker on this subject was Henk De Zeeuw from RUAF Foundation (Resource centers on Urban Agriculture and Food security), who were also partners and sponsors of the event. He talked about the fact that we need to integrate Vertical Farming in the broader view of the whole Urban Food system. He believes it will help to overcome many of the Challenges Vertical Farming is facing. Following was Dr. Hans Au, Co-Founder of iF Foods, who talked about the Chinese food industry. Hans convinced us of the fact that the Chinese market holds many opportunities but is very fragmented. He gave these staggering numbers to prove it: China holds 127 cities that have more than 1 million inhabitants and it has 3.8 million active food businesses. To conclude Hans advocated for industry standards and certification for Vertical Farming, according to him it will get funders interested.


Yuval Zohar, head of JDS architects China, gave a talk called "farm follows function". He presented us two very detailed projects that managed to perfectly integrate buildings, farming practices and nature. With that he proved that Vertical Farms can preserve the natural landscape inside a city. Dr. Zhenshan Yang presented about the integration of Urban Agriculture into urban planning and the Policies in China. He told us that in China the support for urban agriculture is growing, but that there is still a need for innovations in policies for Urban and Vertical Farming.


The Panel discussed about many things and the opening question got the debate to a high level immediately. Howard Brin (AVF China) moderated the panel and asked if policy makers should support small entrepreneurs or large corporations. Hans Au replied that the western mind wants to come up with a modern, idealised solutions to the Chinese problem, but the Chinese have a more practical, integrated and holistic approach. They tend to use what already exists. He suggested to start at home, then small showcases to test and verify before scaling big. In a subsequent question Henk De Zeeuw mentioned another possible solution; that if we bring Vertical Farming to the people, policy makers will follow.
Changemaker in the Spotlights

Dr. Joel Cuello is a professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering and director of the global institute for strategic agriculture in drylands (GISAD), at the University of Arizona (USA). He conducted his postdoctoral research at NASA JFK Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. He is also a lifetime visiting professor at Zhejiang university in Hangzhou, China and a faculty fellow of the ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.
 



When he spoke at the AVF Summit, he introduced a standardized Vertical Farming platform for buildings as a way of reducing costs. If there's one company that builds minimally structured modular Vertical Farms, smaller companies can lease those systems and can also start up with limited funding. He and his team did some simulations and the numbers look promising. It was this fantastic idea and the fact that he is a really nice person that made us decide to put him in the spotlights for a short interview.

AVF: You introduced to us to the minimally structured modular vertical farm, we from AVF like that idea very much and wondered  what your opinion is on the economic implementation of these systems?
Joel: These systems can help to build a model for Vertical Farming that works. Next to sharing, I'm all about sustainability in the three pillars of the economy. Implementation of the minimally structured modular vertical farms should be economically feasible, socially enhancing and environmentally friendly. And I believe the best way to strengthen the three pillars evenly, is to open source that technology.

AVF: What attracts you to Vertical Farming?
Joel: I think my response to it is almost instinctive, it just works. Because prior to learning about VF'ing, I was already very familiar with the concept of plant factories in Japan. I visited Japan several times and I met someone who owns and operates a plant factory. He gave, me a tour of his facility and I knew then and there that this can work, this can be economically feasible. That's a logical extension.

AVF: Yeah, it's cool isn't it?
Joel: Yeah, it's very cool, and I think that's part of the big attraction to it.

AVF: Professor Cuello, what makes you happy in life?
Joel: An interesting question easily answered: Service to others, It's a wisdom that came with age. And as a professor helping others is very easy: I work with students, do research and help to advance technology, all of this in service of humanity. Another thing that makes me Happy, of course, is Chinese food.

AVF: Last question, what's the last amazing thing you've seen?
Joel: The peer to peer cooperation of professionals, experts and business people. To me that in itself is the most amazing thing. I believe that when we come together, combine our brain power and collective creativity, we can solve any problem. So that's amazing.
Two days of East meeting West on the field of Vertical Farming was extremely inspiring. Many new connections were made, opportunities were opened and plans were made for next year AVF summit in China. Bigger, better and even more beautiful.

Hope to see you next year.

The AVF team

By Zjef van Acker (AVF Belgium)

PS: all presentations and video material will be available soon, so check our website regularly.


A big thanks to all 100+ participants of the event !
Copyright © 2015 Association for Vertical Farming, All rights reserved.


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