A plant factory (aka indoor farming or vertical farming) is a closed growing system that enables a grower to achieve constant production of vegetables all year around. The facility utilises artificial control of light, temperature, moisture, and carbon dioxide concentrations. It is closely linked to hydroponics and vertical farming in general.

We’ve looked at all these niche farming techniques before, the two mentioned above as well as aeroponics. Usually there has to be a place for these “farms” to be built and they are built as plant factories.

Researchgate

Now, plant factories are not new in SA, there are companies that build them to supply livestock farmers with fodder there is Feedgrow with their hydroponic “plant in a box” that can feed 300 sheep or 60 cattle per day while others are built inside shipping containers. But why would a farmer who owns land need a plant factory to feed his livestock?

Why plant factories
Plant factories are plant production systems that grows plants under optimal conditions artificial lights, temperature, it is an efficient system that does not depend on weather conditions whether hail storm or drought. Remember with a plant factory a lot of functions can be automated to create the best conditions to grow and at certain pace. If a farmer is raising livestock it might make sense for him to use one.

Plant factories solve the problems of unusual weather, shortage of land or arable land. But as mentioned above they can be portable, they can be built into shipping containers or even into the back of a truck. But most important of all they can be built close to cities in warehouses.

Plant factory at scale

What does a plant factory business do?
Like most businesses, there is the supply of materials and equipment, building (both B2B), and the operating of (usually B2C or for own consumption as in restaurants). The building and supply involve the planning, design, and implementation of plant factories as well as the components used, lights, timers and even monitoring software. The operating involves growing and selling for consumption. As you are more constrained for space microgreens are usually favoured over larger vegetables. Urban Cultivation claims that a single 10-metre long, 5 level high plant factory can grow up to 3180 plants with most crops requiring a 15-20 day sprouting to harvesting cycle.

An example of B2B plant factory suppliers

Now buying custom-made plant factories (as opposed to DIY) is not cheap but remember it is an all-year-long thing unaffected by weather conditions or the climate as it is grown in a simulated environment.  However, there are diagrams available to see how these systems work and you can use that to build your own system if you have the knowledge.

Plant factories vs greenhouses
If you are still wondering about plant factories vs. green houses. Green houses use natural sunlight plant factories use completely artificial (electric) lights. It is growing plants in an industrial manner.

Is there a business here in SA?
If you are going to enter commercial hydroponics then you will need a plant factory it obviously makes sense to build it into a modular system that can be added to when the need arrives or moved if need be, it does not need to be a shipping container but a racking or shelving system with wheels that can move around easily.

Modular Plant Factory System (2019 reddot award winner)

Another section added:

Sanabio

Look these uh, how do I put it, “boutique” farming techniques they are not the cheapest but what I find in SA is most people are dreamers and cannot farm traditionally. I personally consider traditional farming to be hell on earth in SA, something I have spoken of before regarding temperament. But for example, aquaponics is something that I might do. So it might be something to look into.

That all being said I believe that should South Africa continue on its current trajectory and the ANC government carry out all their communist fantasies which will affect commercial farming and cause food shortages (and currency collapse making imports too expensive) we will start to see plant factories being built in housing estates, retirement villages and in warehouses to supply retailers and other places the same way solar systems have been built to counter the vastly incompetent Eskom.

Further reading
Plant factories: the future of farming?

Image credits: agritecture, futuretodayinstitute, parus, pinterest