Imported soft fruits and herbs to disappear in ten years

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British soft fruit farming will see a huge boost from today, with the opening of a new specialist, state-of-the-art Innovation Centre in Bristol.

The research and development team at the centre aims to end the need for the UK to import soft fruits, herbs and cut flowers within the next 10 years.

The Innovation Centre is part of ambitious plans from the rapidly growing Jones Food Company (JFC), owners of Europe’s largest vertical farm, to further cement its role at the head of a burgeoning sector within British farming. JFC is also currently building what will be the world’s largest vertical farm.

The company believes it can grow soft fruits, flowers, vegetables and even vines on a commercially viable scale in the coming years, thereby significantly impacting the UK’s food security.

The Innovation Centre will act as a testbed for the produce to be then grown at what will be the world’s largest vertical farm, currently dubbed JFC2. The research and development team will closely study the growing requirements of various plants and varieties as the business evolves the produce range from the leafy greens currently grown at the original site in Lincolnshire.

Jones Food Company already supplies 30% of the UK’s fresh cut basil to major retailers, equating to thousands of stores each week, and once the JFC2 opens in autumn 2022 the combined growing space will equate to 96 tennis courts stacked in vertical layers.

Traditional agriculture in the UK has always been affected by seasonality and limited land space, with nearly half of the food Brits consumed imported in 2020*, while with hydroponic growing and precisely controlled environments these variables are removed. Growing this way also removes the need for pesticides, uses 95% less water and reduces food miles (air and road), allows planting and harvesting 365 days per year and can be done using 100% green energy.

Glynn Stephens, Head of Growing, Jones Food Company, says: “We already know we can grow products other than leafy greens, from mushrooms to blackberries to tulips, but our task through this new facility is to push the speed of growth to work on a commercial scale.

“We want consumers to be able to pick up vertically grown peppers, tomatoes or berries at their local retailer, and know that that product is sustainable and hasn’t had to travel hundreds of miles to get to their plate.

“JFC is leading the charge with this mission, and our goal is for vertical farming to become the main supplier for the UK’s fresh food in the coming years.

“This is very much an area where we’re seeing relatively quick developments, and we believe that having a fresh punnet of British strawberries at Christmas or eating a homegrown salad in winter, is very much in sight through the work we’re doing here”.

James Lloyd-Jones, founder and CEO, Jones Food Company, says: “Consumers, retailers, government and everyone involved recognises the importance and benefits of reducing emissions, reducing food miles, reducing pesticide use, reducing water use and generally being more sustainable in the way we grow our food.

“With the launch of our new Innovation Centre, our aim is to build on what we’ve already achieved and to diversify our produce range at scale, so that the UK can be wholly reliant on homegrown fresh produce. It’s clear from what we’ve achieved and are planning that, within the next 10 years, the UK could be in a position where we no longer have to fly-in soft fruits and herbs from southern Europe, north Africa, the Caribbean or anywhere else.

“We will now be able to test, trial and adapt quickly, and I’m sure the learnings here will pave the way for not only the future of UK vertical farming, but the future of UK farming. We are at the very vanguard of a huge opportunity to develop technology that impacts consumers both here and around the world”.

“We have chosen Bristol as the home for our Innovation Centre for several reasons. Firstly, it’s very close to the site in Lydney site where we’re building the world’s largest vertical farm so there are operational benefits; secondly, there is a large and well-educated workforce from which to attract new talent in the space where agriculture and technology collide; and lastly, of course, as a city, Bristol is among the most sustainably-minded in the UK so there is a strong attitudinal link.”

JFC’s research and development team is supported by a number of young talents that are new to the agricultural industry, from impressive academic backgrounds both here and abroad.