By Chris Sims, Managing Director, BT's Enterprise unit

How BT is supporting vertical farming for sustainable agritech

Imagine a world in which farmers can create the optimal weather conditions for growing a wide range of crops from different climates, but in less than two feet apart from one another. Intelligent Growth Solutions is doing just that, bringing together decades of farming and engineering experience to create revolutionary controlled-environment growth products for economical and sustainable farming. Its solutions - a vertical farm-in-a-box and growth stations for low-rise installations - are helping farmers and other food producers create consistent, reliable and sustainable produce regardless of location.

So what exactly is vertical farming? Essentially, vertical farming is the notion of growing crops in vertically stacked layer in a controlled-environment agriculture to optimise plant growth. Some common choices of vertical farming systems include buildings, shipping containers, tunnels, and abandoned mine shafts.

With the world expected to reach 10 million people by 2050, coupled with the effects of climate change, traditional farming methods need to be optimised to ensure a safe, sustainable future for the growing population. Through innovative technology, IGS optimises weather variables and eliminates the need for pesticides, enabling the growth of healthier crops with longer shelf lives at locations convenient to their customers. Their ambition is to build the best technology in the world and supply it to global farmers so they're able to grow crops they need for local diets everywhere. And whilst vertical farms won't replace traditional farming, it can make traditional farming much more efficient through the use of innovative new technology.

In the latest episode of The Future Is Now campaign, journalist and broadcaster Steph McGovern explores the role of 5G, cloud and network capabilities in creating cutting edge systems to help farmers deliver ideal conditions for consistent, reliable crops in any location – and with minimal environmental impact. David Farquhar, the trailblazing CEO of IGS explains the company’s revolutionary controlled environments, including a farm that hosts individual microclimates adjusted for each crop’s needs. You can watch the full episode here.

As more traditional industries move to digital solutions, the role of a strong reliable network infrastructure really does make the difference between a faltering business and a successful one. For IGS, connectivity is king. As a BT customer, IGS' vertical farm relies on ultrafast and seamless connectivity as crops are completely controlled digitally through mobile devices. Its vertical farm features no on-site computers or circuits, with all the information stored in the cloud. Its platforms are enabled through an IoT system and powered by a three-tier AI solution to deliver “Total Control Environment Agriculture". This offers farmers and other food producers drastic productivity benefits such as higher quality produce that uses 50 percent less energy and 80 percent less labour.

As a trusted technology partner, we support our customers - from SMEs right through to corporates and the public sector - with sustainable deployments. Our work with University of Stirling for example, sees a creation of a living laboratory with the Forth Valley, supporting a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system that measures drinking and bathing water quality and provides early detection of floods. We also recently launched our Green Tech innovation platform alongside Plug and Play, a programme that sees BT working collaboratively with tech scale ups that are developing break through green tech that will support our public sector customers.

Whilst we support our customers like IGS to deliver a sustainable future, we understand it can be a daunting prospect for many organisations. Partnering with providers who share sustainability ambitions, and have the necessary networks, technologies, and infrastructure to support, is imperative if businesses and governments are to achieve their sustainability ambitions. It’s fantastic to see the work IGS is pioneering for the farming community, and we’re proud to play a role in delivering a leading network that is actively changing the future.