iFarm talks ‘next generation’ of vertical farming, Qatar expansion
iFarm is an ag tech company based in Finland, with operations in Russia, Europe and globally. The company is now expanding into Qatar through a tie-up with Sadarah, owner of Agrico Organic Farm. The companies will collaboratively manage a commercial-scale indoor farm based on iFarm’s latest vertical farming technology.
The multi-year partnership will optimize the growing of leafy greens, strawberries, and edible flowers. This will help ensure a steady year-round supply of fresh produce in the country, contributing to Qatar’s National Food Security Strategy, iFarm CEO Kirill Zelenski told Food Navigator.
“We see Qatar as a large and fast-developing customer,” he said. The Middle Eastern country, which aims to reach 70% self-sufficiency in food production by 2023, is ‘definitely’ expected to become one of iFarm’s largest customers.
“The region needs this kind of technology,” the chief executive noted.
Water efficiency for economic and environmental impact
Zelenski believes vertical farming can be a game changer for food production in hot, dry regions like the Middle East. “This technology allows growing food wherever, inside buildings or even underground, providing more opportunities for people in deciding where to live. The Middle East, with its extremely hot climate, can use vertical farming technologies to completely transform the food production system and become self-sufficient in this regard,” he told us.
Vertical farming is an effective solution for agricultural production in arid climates. On average, vertical farming uses 95% less water than conventional agriculture – and iFarm claims to have ‘improved this indicator’.
iFarm engineers have recently developed and patented a dehumidification system allowing to reuse the water that farm plants evaporate during growth.
According to iFarm, this stacks up to big water savings. From 1,400 litres of water, plants use 80 litres for weight gain. The remaining 1,320 litres the plants simply evaporate. “We collect this water with air conditioners and dehumidifiers, purify it and reuse it in production.”
A common critique of vertical farming is that replacing natural sunlight and open air with LED bulbs and climate control uses significant amounts of electricity.
However, iFarm notes, as electricity sources become more renewable and as LED technology improves, energy-intense vertical farming will become both more sustainable – less carbon-intense – and more affordable.
On the Qatar project, Zelenski elaborated: “We are working with Agrico to make sure the farm will be powered by renewable energy sources.”
Phased Qatar expansion
The first phase of the Sadarah-iFarm partnership involves developing a commercial trial farm at Sadarah’s Agrico Farm in Al Khor, Qatar.
This will be the first deployment in a GCC country of an AI managed vertical farm. iFarm leverages drones to monitor crop health and manage yields, improving the quality of crops and maximizing yield. “The average capacity will be around 4,500-5,000 kg of fresh greens per month. However, the precise amount will depend on the specific type of crops we will be growing,” Zelenski elaborated.
The second phase of the joint project entails commercial distribution of the produce to the local Qatar market and the expansion of the vertical farming technology to other farms in Qatar and its regional neighbours.
“The role of iFarm won’t be limited to simply supplying equipment and software at the construction phase, but we will help oversee the farm after it’s up and running and provide support to our partners in managing iFarm’s cutting-edge technology,” the ag tech expert said.
While the initial focus will be strawberries and leafy greens, Zelenski revealed that iFarm technology can be applied to a broader variety of crops. “In general, the technology allows you to grow any crop you want. The only question is the crop’s potential from the economic point of view,” we were told.
Qatar-Russia Investment and Trade Advisory (QRITA) acted as an advisor in establishing the partnership and will continue to work with iFarm and Sadarah to develop their joint venture further.