Berry Gardens, the UK’s largest supplier of berries and cherries, and Jones Food Company, owner of Europe’s largest indoor vertical farm, have agreed terms to conduct trials into vertically-grown strawberries.
The trial will be run at Jones Food Company’s new research and development facility in Bristol – and if successful, could extend the British strawberry season to 12 months.
At the moment the British season is from March to November – but Berry Gardens customers have expressed a significant interest in stocking vertically-grown strawberries, with the first crop likely winter 2023.
The Jones Food Company is currently building the world’s largest vertical farm, on a site near Lydney in Gloucestershire. It will now research growing premium strawberry varieties hydroponically, meaning the berries will grow in water, without soil, with plants layered on top of each other in a series of tiers. Growing this way brings huge sustainability benefits as it removes the need for pesticides, uses 95% less water and reduces food miles. Chief Executive Officer at Berry Gardens, Nick Allen, said: “We are delighted to be working with Jones Food Company and to again be leading the soft fruit category, this time by exploring the possibilities offered by vertical farming. Ensuring quality supply for our customers and allowing consumers to have delicious, fresh, healthy, British strawberries on shelves year round are key priorities for us. The environmental impact is obviously really attractive too.
“Like most of the industry, we are actively looking for ways we can become more sustainable across our business and when technology offers realistic solutions, it is incumbent on us to pursue them with energy." Founder of Jones Food Company, James Lloyd-Jones, said: “Our food supply chain is under significant stress, rising costs of energy, fertiliser and our food are all regular and consistent stories, therefore vertical farming is undoubtedly a vital part of the UK’s farming future. “Through this new partnership we will marry Jones Food Company’s world-leading technology and vertical farming experience with Berry Gardens’ excellence and knowledge in growing soft fruit to further answer the intensely pressing need for more sustainable forms of farming.
"British agriculture has traditionally been limited by seasonality, but this collaboration looks to get us to a point where UK consumers can buy fresh, homegrown strawberries from major retailers throughout winter and year round. We know the demand is there, and we’re working hard to make it a reality.
“Vertical farming not only benefits the environment, but also the economy," added Mr Jones.
"The scale we offer is vital in order to create a cost base that allows us to deliver delicious produce to the masses. Our new facility, which will be the world’s biggest vertical farm, will open in late 2022 and we hope to see more to follow; we aim to supply 70% of the UK’s fresh produce within the next ten years, and adding berries is a key part of that plan."