Stacked Farm expects its modular design of indoor farms will enable a rapid expansion. The startup is planning to build large scale commercial farms in each capital city of Australia.
Stacked Farm has already built a 5,400 square metre facility in Arundel on the Gold Coast of Queensland. It includes a fully automated operating farm, a research and development lab, a manufacturing division and head office.
The company is currently in the planning stages for large scale commercial farms in each capital city. This will allow the company to service national contracts with retailers and food service. Later this year, it will begin construction on a new 7,200 square metre facility in Melbourne.
We benefit from a modular design that enables rapid deployment and expansion
Arundel serves as the company’s global headquarters. Upcoming locations will focus exclusively on large-scale commercial production. The technology remains uniform across all facilities, says Stacked Farm. “We benefit from a modular design that enables rapid deployment and expansion”, explains Founder and Chief Architect Daniel Tzvetkoff.
For an indoor farm, end-to-end automation in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is fundamental to achieving higher yields and commercial viability, the company says. Stacked Farm’s facility in Arundel is therefore fully automated from seed to bag without any human intervention.
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According to Mr Tzvetkoff, automation facilitates large scale operations with minimal labour and resource demands. “Human error-associated risks are significantly minimised”, he says. “Allowing consistent environmental control and reliable real-time monitoring. Further, the wealth of data generated by our automated systems enables data-driven decision-making, enhancing overall efficiency and yield predictability. ”
The company currently grows a diverse range of leafy greens and herbs. Additionally, it is in the trial phase of commercially supplying fruit varieties, including blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and capsicums.
We maintain a commitment to a pesticide and herbicide-free approach
Technically speaking, Stacked Farm surpasses all lab testing criteria for organic produce. “However, Australia’s organic certification criteria requires crops to be grown in soil to gain the accreditation”, Mr Tzvetkoff points out.
“Organic certification is primarily managed by several organic certification bodies that are accredited by the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Interestingly, the USDA in the United States recently updated their criteria to include crops grown in media other than soil.”
Stacked Farm aims to design and operate its farms as state-of-the-art high-care food production facilities. “We maintain a commitment to a pesticide and herbicide-free approach, bolstered by multi-stage high-hygiene protocols”, Mr Tzvetkoff says. “Including air showers and physical showers to safeguard our facilities.”
“Stringent quality control extends to air and water purification techniques, incorporating UV, ozone, reverse osmosis, carbon, and electrostatic processes. Furthermore, every harvest undergoes comprehensive lab testing to ensure traceability and adherence to the highest safety standards.”
The Arundel farm has a gross production capability of 400 tons per annum. “Our next commercial scale farm, due for completion late 2024, will have a production capacity of 2,500+ tons per annum”, Mr Tzvetkoff expects. “We currently have 4 large scale farms planned over the next 3 years.”
Stacked Farm has a number of distribution partners who handle produce delivery to quick service retail and well known food service brands. “The nature of our platform allows for bespoke products to be delivered on a per customer basis”, Mr Tzvetkoff says. “We are able to produce product equal to or below the costs associated with traditional farming, which allows us to compete with field grown produce.”
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The costs of energy of an indoor farm might be relatively high, but the technology of Stacked Farm outperforms traditional farming in several ways. “From a land perspective, our 5,000 square meter farm, producing a variety of leafy greens, accomplishes the equivalent annual output that would typically demand approximately 550,000 square meters (55 hectares) of outdoor field-grown operations” Mr Tzvetkoff says.
“Our systems allow precise environmental control and year-round production, removing the dependence on unpredictable weather conditions. It also inherently enhances consumer safety by eliminating the use of pesticides entirely.”
Indoor growing means we are immune to external pests and weather fluctuations
Chief Technology Officer George Newbold emphasises that Stacked Farm monitors every seed in detail from sowing to harvest. “This allows precise care and a great environment for healthy plants. Indoor growing means we are immune to external pests and weather fluctuations, so our controlled environment and in-house farm operating system lets us grow each variety with tailored nutrient and lighting conditions, perfect for each crop.”
“This approach ensures consistently high quality results for every variety we produce all the time, and allows us to grow crops at 50% or less of the time required for traditional farming.”
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The Arundel Farm is not far from the urban area of Surfers Paradise. This results in a reduction of logistical and supply chain strains. “It also translates into extended shelf life of our produce – from harvest and packaging to its ultimate placement in burgers, wraps, or salads for the end consumer”, Mr Tzvetkoff says.
Mr Newbold adds that an often overlooked fact about the company’s produce is that due to much gentler treatment and a clean environment, the need for intense washing is eliminated. “Our salad mix lasts weeks instead of days”, he says.
The future of vertical farming will always be about embracing new technologies
Mr Newbold believes the future of vertical farming will always be about embracing new technologies. “Most of all to increase space-efficiency and energy-efficiency. When we innovate, it sparks a chain reaction, which leads to even more possibilities for meaningful improvements.”
“And in our industry, I think people play important roles”, he says. “Maintaining, building and designing better farms, ensuring everything is on track, growing new varieties, people are the ones enjoying the produce in the end.”
Mr Newbold is optimistic about future developments in the industry. “What I’m pretty sure we‘ll keep seeing, is this ongoing process of using more efficient design and technology, to improve how vertical farms work as they become a more common source of fresh food.”