A vertical farming business backed by Ocado has opened a new state-of-the-art innovation centre in Bristol.
Scunthorpe-founded Jones Food Company (JFC) said the centre would “end the need” for the UK to import soft fruits, herbs and cut flowers in the next 10 years.
The company believes it can grow soft fruits, flowers, vegetables – and even vines – on a commercially viable scale in the next few years.
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The innovation centre will act as a testbed for the produce, which will then be grown at a vast vertical farm being built in Lydney, in Gloucestershire. The 148,000 sq ft site will have growing space equivalent to 96 tennis courts when complete later this year.
JFC said its research and development team would 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.
The company already supplies 30 per cent of the UK’s fresh-cut basil to major retailers, equating to thousands of stores each week.
Glynn Stephens, head of growing at JFC, said: “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 said it had chosen Bristol for its innovation centre, in part, because of the city’s “large and well-educated” workforce from which to attract new talent.
“As a city, Bristol is among the most sustainably-minded in the UK so there is a strong attitudinal link,” said James Lloyd-Jones, founder and chief executive of JFC.
Mr Lloyd-Jones said the company’s aim was to diversify its produce range at scale, so that the UK could be “wholly reliant” on homegrown fresh produce.
He added: ”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.”
Ocado invested heavily in 2019, as part of a £17m injection into the agri-tech advancement. At the time JFC was less than a year old.