British strawberries could be on supermarket shelves nine months of the year using a new vertical-growing technique that is also better for the environment.
The system, which is being pioneered by a fruit-grower in Arundel, West Sussex, uses 50% less water and has a 90% lower carbon footprint but has yields five times higher than normal production methods.
Direct Produce Supplies (DPS) is stacking up 1,000 tonnes of strawberries and will be supplying Tesco using the method, which should guarantee supplies whatever the weather during the British summer.
The strawberries are produced in vertically stacked beds under fully controlled conditions, with plants watered using a hydroponic feed instead of in the soil, which DPS says helps improve the nutrition value of the fruit.
Chief executive Paul Beynon said: “Vertical farming offers growers a protected environment that requires significantly less land, water and energy to produce excellent quality crops.
“We chose our farm location near Chichester on the south coast because this region gives the highest natural levels of light and heat in the UK and so maximises the potential.
“We are still at a relatively early stage in vertical growing and in the future we believe that we can make even further advances in sustainable strawberry production and that other fruit crops could take to the system in a similar way.”
Tesco fruit technical manager Sabina Wyant said: “Vertical crop production is a giant step for fresh produce growers in helping reduce their carbon footprint and use less water, at the same time boosting their yields.
“For shoppers there is also a clear benefit, with consistent quality fruit and availability for up to nine months of the year, regardless of the weather conditions.
“By example, right now during Wimbledon fortnight, the UK sees the highest demand of the year for strawberries but sometimes adverse weather conditions can challenge production at this time, leaving retailers with a shortfall.
“Vertical farming will put an end to that uncertainty and ensure perfect growing conditions during an extended nine-month season.”