Mind the (hungry) gap


Today is the spring equinox. Now (9:58 p.m), is the precise moment the sun's rays are shining directly on the equator.

While most of us relish the turn of the season, now is a tough time for farmers. It marks the start of the hungry gap - a time when fresh British produce is thin on the ground. Stores of winter produce are running dry and the new season's crops are not yet ready to harvest. While there is little money coming in from selling produce, it’s a time of great expense. Farmers need to buy seeds and hire labour to sow and tend them.

You’d be forgiven for not noticing these troubles. If you don’t keep an eye on your produce’s providence, you’d have a hard time spotting the difference. Supermarkets don’t miss a beat, switching from local UK to imported produce when the supply dries up. But this comes at a cost. Air freight emits more greenhouse gases per food mile than any other mode of transport and lengthy supply chains are inefficient, contributing to the astronomically high rates of food waste within the system.

Our vertical farming technology provides a low carbon, sustainable solution to this problem. It allows farmers to grow and sell produce all year round using aeroponics and LED lighting. The systems use 95% less water than traditional agriculture and 30% less than industry standard hydroponics. Our stacks of growbeds are fully automatable and controlled with our farm management system Ostara, meaning they’re easy to operate and run.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how our technology could benefit your farm, you can get in touch here: info@lettusgrow.com

Bringing the outside In – Innovating for Controlled Environment Agriculture


Agri-Tech East to investigate how Controlled Environment Agriculture can disrupt the value-chain

Is there a business case for widescale commercial vertical farming in the UK or will it remain a niche opportunity for high-end restaurants and retail? This is the challenge to be discussed by early adopters at the Agri-Tech East conference ‘Innovating for Controlled Environment Agriculture’ on 19 March. Advances in logistics and the falling cost of LED lighting may enable year-round growing of undercover produce in the UK, but will energy costs and technical issues delay scale-up and integration within the food supply chain?

“We do think there is the potential for indoor farming to be commercially viable and there are some immediate gains for growing crops such as leafy salads in high hygiene environments,” comments Lindsay Hargreaves, MD of Frederick Hiam, a farming and fresh produce business with farms in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. “Growing indoors provides greater control of quality and quantity and fewer inputs of plant protection products.

“There is also the matter of growing crops closer to the point of consumption. Being able to grow more exotic crops in East Anglia close to distribution centres would reduce the food miles. Additionally, there are opportunities to grow crops for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and vaccines within a controlled environment.”

There are many approaches to indoor cultivation, such as deep-water hydroponics, vertical soilless cultivation, and aeroponics, where exposed roots are sprayed with nutrients. All of these methods are to be discussed at the conference along with advances in monitoring and robotics.

However, despite the news that Sterling Suffolk, one of the UK’s most technically-advanced glasshouses, is set to produce millions of tomatoes starting in February 2019, the cost (£30M) and the technical challenges mean there are few commercial installations in the UK.

Also, it is proving difficult to demonstrate to retailers that controlled environment agriculture (CEA) can bring tangible benefits to their supply chain.

Kate Hofman, co-founder of GrowUp Farms, which from 2015 to 2017 operated 'Unit 84', a commercial-scale aquaponic urban farm inside an industrial warehouse. The 8,200 square feet of growing space could produce enough for 200,000 salad bags and 4,000kg of fish each year. It sold directly into restaurants, through a New Covent Garden distributor and also through bricks and mortar supermarkets and Farmdrop, the online supermarket.

Kate comments: “A key learning over the last six years is that we can’t just focus on technology – we have to partner along the supply chain to create a business model that ultimately delivers commercial success for growers and retailers.

“One of the major challenges for CEA is to optimise operations to bring down the cost of production to match existing imported products. Our prototype urban farm showed that it was possible to use CEA commercially, and we were able to demonstrate the demand for the produce we could grow. This ranged from specialist micro-greens and cut herbs through to mixed baby leaf salad.

“We are now working on scaling up our business. This will involve relocating, so that our production is co-located with a renewable energy plant and working in partnership with more traditional farming businesses to integrate their experience and expertise.”

There are also technology challenges to be addressed when trying to meet the highly variable consumer demand for high quality, fresh produce.

G’s Fresh supply baby leaf crops all year round, with much of the winter supply grown in Spain and Italy to ensure security of delivery. In summertime it produces a huge amount of outdoor salad crop, particularly lettuces and celery in the UK. Ben Barnes is investigating how controlled environment agriculture can increase the long-term viability and profitability of both of those parts of the business.

The organisation has a large standard greenhouse facility that is used to propagate seedlings for planting out into the field. It is running two projects: Smart Prop, which is looking at increasing the efficiency of the propagation facility to improve growth and make stronger plants so they transplant better back into the field. And Winter Grow, a pre-commercial trial, to see if it is feasible to produce baby leaf crops during the winter at an affordable price point.

Ben explains: “I'm going to be talking at the Agri-Tech East event about the commercial journey, in terms of the go and no-go decision-making process and what the key things are that we need to learn in order to be able to make those kind of investment decisions.

“One element of this is the development of ‘lighting recipes’ to enhance plant growth characteristics. We've got multi-spectrum LED lights, so we can turn up the different amounts of red, blue, green and white, and even far red light. These are fairly expensive, so once we have worked out what works best we can buy fixed spectrum lights, which are a tenth of the cost.

“You think LEDs are very efficient, but they still generate a heck of a lot of heat when you’ve got them turned up to full. It is more about keeping the space cool, and the plants obviously are transpirating so we've got dehumidifiers in there sucking the moisture out of the air.

“One of the biggest problems with the vertical farming concept is this interaction between moisture and temperature. You’ve got the two factors constantly fighting against each other and that ends up sucking up huge amounts of energy if you're not careful.”

Dr Belinda Clarke is director of Agri-Tech East, an independent membership organisation that is facilitating the growth of the agri-tech sector, comments that the commercial challenges need addressing along with the technical and agronomic aspects: “The promise of CEA is sustainable, intensive production but achieving that may require a different type of value chain.

“It could be that supermarkets of the future allow you to pick your own fruit and baby leaf instore, or we may see large-scale distribution of veg boxes, with produce grown indoors in optimum conditions or perhaps traditional growers would have more flexibility to grow a greater range of produce all year around with less waste.

“These ideas all have potential but also require significant capital investment and creative solutions for energy management. These are some of the themes we will discuss in the conference.”

'Bringing the outside In – Innovating for Controlled Environment Agriculture' is taking place on 19 March from 10.00 – 16.00 at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden. It will look at the different growing systems, emerging technologies, the challenges of implementing a system and the logistics involved with integrating a controlled environment agriculture into the food value chain.

Find out more at www.agritech-east.co.uk/upcoming-events/

World-renowned plant scientist, Dr Antony Dodd, joins LettUs Grow


The world-renowned Dr Antony Dodd, whose internationally leading research focuses on circadian rhythms, plant physiology and environmental signalling, has been awarded a Royal Society Industry Fellowship to contribute to product development LettUs Grow.

Dr Dodd will be working closely with us to apply fundamental plant sciences to the advancement of our indoor farming technologies. This will involve combining Dr Dodd’s expertise in circadian rhythms and plant physiology with the work of our incredible team of biologists and engineers to design optimal aeroponic cultivation recipes. This will enable us to optimise our systems for individual crop species and consistently increase yields.

Dr Dodd said, “This represents an outstanding opportunity to apply fundamental plant sciences to the development of the next generation of technologies for food production by vertical agriculture.”

Our co-founder and Operational Lead, Jack Farmer said, "The alignment of plant circadian rhythms with lighting photoperiod represents a real opportunity to improve yields, whilst reducing the cost of production. We're very excited to work with Dr Antony Dodd to optimise a wide range of indoor farming techniques."

The year-long Fellowship provides funds to allow Dr Dodd to dedicate time to working closely with LettUs Grow.

Press release: LettUs Grow named best “tech-for-good” startup in the UK

l to r - TV presenter Jason, Bradbury, Anne Sheehan of Vodafone, with Jack Farmer and India Langley of LettUs Grow_f.jpg

LettUs Grow, creator of advanced aeroponic technology and farm management software for indoor farms, has been named one of the UK’s top tech startups at the Vodafone Techstarter awards and won £45,000.

The programme celebrates startups developing and using technology as a force for good. It aims to uncover and develop ideas that harness the power of technology to improve health, education, environmental protection or social mobility.

LettUs Grow will receive £45,000 alongside a 12-month programme of support from Vodafone and the Social Tech Trust - an investor in socially motivated tech.

Humanity must increase food production by 70% to feed an extra 2 billion people by 2050. We must do this with 25% less farmland, depleted soils and an increasingly unstable climate.

To address this problem, LettUs Grow has designed a patent-pending aeroponic system that has shown growth rate increases of over 70% compared to existing solutions for a number of crops. Instead of using soil or water, plant roots are suspended in a nutrient-dense mist. This results in faster growth rates than conventional field growing or hydroponics, consistent and predictable year-round harvests, and a 95% reduction in water usage versus open-field agriculture.

Farms don’t need to use pesticides or herbicides when using LettUs Grow’s technology and by siting farms in densely populated areas, they can reduce the environmental impact of delivering food from plot to plate.

Jack Farmer, one of LettUs Grow’s three founders and operational lead, said: “We’re excited to be working with Vodafone.

“We are very keen to collaborate with them from a technical and a commercial standpoint. That mentorship is really going to help us develop our business.

“We are looking to work with Vodafone and a number of other key partners this year, to implement our hardware and software and deliver profitable pilot farms – in greenhouses, research centres and vertical farms – before then working with these partners to scale nationally and internationally.”

Nick Jeffery, chief executive, Vodafone UK, commented: “The range and calibre of the Vodafone Techstarter winners show that the UK is home to a thriving social tech sector.

“We believe the biggest challenges in society can be addressed using technology and innovation. These awards are just one way we can recognise, celebrate and support startups developing and using technology as a force for good.”

Ed Evans, chief executive of Social Tech Trust, had this to say of the awards: “Vodafone Techstarter is a hugely powerful platform that showcases the potential of partnership and demonstrates how cross-sector organisations can work together to create something truly inspiring.”

For more information on how you can work with LettUs Grow or support their growth, contact Managing Director Charlie Guy on charlie@lettusgrow.org.

A fresh look at farming

The UK uses over 17 million hectares of land for farming, that’s over 70% of total land mass. Still, we rely on imports - shipping in half the food we eat (much of which is wasted). Sadly, the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the pond.


The planet is losing 24 billion tonnes of productive soil each year due to intensive agriculture and the demand for food is only increasing. If we want to tackle food security, we need to take a fresh look at farming.

Indoor farming offers a solution. It can be used to grow more food on less land, produce it at or near the point of consumption, and reduce the resource cost of farming.

People often worry that new technologies, like aeroponics, want to replace traditional agriculture. This couldn’t be further from the truth. At LettUs Grow, our aim is to enable positive farming practices, even when times are tough.

Farmers are facing new challenges to feed the growing population: battling everything from climate change to degrading soils. Protecting farms against outward pressures is our top priority. We want to help them diversify their offering. By taking the pressure off the land and making use of indoor spaces, farms can produce more food without destroying natural habitats to create new farmland or driving soil fertility into the ground.

Farming alongside nature isn’t just great for the planet, it’s good for business too. Studies show that farms with more biodiversity have increased yields and lower running costs. This is due to the reduced need for fertilisers and pesticides.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how our technology could benefit your farm, you can get in touch here: info@lettusgrow.com

LettUs Grow one of 12 finalists in Techstarter awards


Vodafone has announced that LettUs Grow is a finalist in their inaugural Techstarter awards, with a chance to win up to £45,000.

The programme, which is run in partnership with the the Social Tech Trust, celebrates startups developing and using technology as a force for good. It aims to uncover and develop ideas that harness the power of technology, connectivity and innovation to improve health, education, environmental protection or social mobility.

We are one of six finalists in the for-profit category. The four winners from this category will each receive £35,000 and a 12-month programme of support, with the chance to win a further £10,00 in the Vodafone Techstarter Champion’s Award.

Jack Farmer, Co-founder and Operational Lead at LettUs Grow, will be pitching our idea to a panel of expert judges this Friday (18th January 2019). Jack had this to say about the awards: “We're excited to be competing as a finalist in the Vodafone Techstarter awards. Working with one of the leading global telecommunications companies would be hugely informative to our product development, as we continue to deploy ever larger aeroponic farms in 2019”

Anne Sheehan, Enterprise Director at Vodafone UK commented: “We believe some of the biggest challenges in society can be addressed using technology and innovation. Vodafone Techstarter is about recognising and celebrating how UK startups are helping shape society for the better; we want to empower small businesses to truly make a difference in society. I’m really excited to meet the finalists and see first-hand the impact their ideas and innovations could have.”

Ed Evans, CEO of the Social Tech Trust said: “It’s fantastic to see such an inspiring group of social tech innovations make the Vodafone Techstarter shortlist. All of them are driven by social purpose and are making a positive contribution to people’s lives. We look forward to working with the winning teams to help them grow and scale their social impact.”

The Vodafone Techstarter winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on 7th February.