Lean Farming


Hey, I'm lean...

Hey, I’m lean…

Provide what I need, when I need it, where it’s needed and in the amount needed. That summarizes a big part of a lean approach to delivering value. An interesting constellation of techniques and technologies is coming together in a venture called Green Sense Farms. A production facility in Indiana is attempting to attract sufficient investment and commercial interest to create a new business model for the growing of vegetables. On their website, the firm describes their farm process:

  • We grow without pesticides, herbicides or GMO seeds.
  • We recycle our water and nutrients so it all goes to the plants, with no runoff to impact soil and water.
  • Our LED lighting system means we use less energy, generate less heat, and create more of the color spectrum that the plants need.
  • We maximize our footprint by growing vertically. On one-tenth of the land of a traditional farm, we can produce up to 26 harvests per year.
  • Because we aren’t dependent on the sun or rain, we can grow consistently near our customers. Our proximity means we can deliver faster and fresher, using less fuel and creating fewer emissions. Our goal – from our farm to your table in 24 hours.
  • We use a renewable growing medium created from coconut husks – a part of the coconut that was once considered waste.

The LED lighting system they refer to is a system, developed by Philips, that is tuned to the exact wavelength to optimize plant growth — pink. In their article on the business venture, The Economist wrote:

The idea of abandoning the sun’s light for the artificial sort is not new. It offers plenty of advantages: no need to worry about seasons or the weather, for instance, not to mention the ability to grow around the clock (although a couple of hours a day are necessary, says Gus van der Feltz of Philips, for the plant equivalent of sleep). Moving plants indoors allows them to be coddled in other ways, too. Water can be recycled continuously, and sensors can detect which nutrients are missing and provide them in small, accurate bursts.

However, LEDs offer a host of benefits over traditional, fluorescent growing lights. For one thing, they are far more efficient, which helps to keep electricity bills down. High efficiency means less heat, which makes air conditioning cheaper. Being cooler, the lights can be placed closer to the plants, so the crops can be planted more densely. The wavelengths of the light can be fine-tuned so that lettuce is crisper, or softer, says Robert Colangelo, the president of Green Sense Farms.

Your correspondent tasted soft, sweet kale nibbled straight off the plant. It was delicious. The crops grow faster, too. Philips reckons that using LED lights in this sort of controlled, indoor environment could cut growing cycles by up to half compared with traditional farming. That could help meet demand for what was once impossible: fresh, locally grown produce, all year round.

Hydroponic, naturally lit greenhouses, such as those built by BrightFarms, a firm based in New York, are already supplying produce to cities such as Chicago and New York. Green Sense Farms is not the first to try growing under LEDs, and despite their efficiency, energy costs have been a challenge for its predecessors. But Mr Colangelo is confident. LEDs are becoming cheaper all the time, and the involvement of Philips, which has invested heavily in the technology, suggests that costs can fall further.

Farms such as these are unlikely to be suitable for heavy crops like corn and potatoes—which grow pretty efficiently in vast fields. But if Green Sense Farms can prove its commercial worth, this form of farming could become widespread for leafy greens and other high-value crops. A new national climate assessment, published on May 6th, sets out the threats that American agriculture is facing, such as growing numbers of insects and other pests and a rising incidence of bad weather. Indoor farming is, happily, immune to both.

Here’s a link to a Philip’s produced info-video on the Green Sense process: http://youtu.be/MjJYtgNQCVk

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