Local food for everyone: consultation analysis

Summary of respondents’ views, and our response to the consultation on Local Food for Everyone.

Part B – Vertical Farming

This section of the consultation paper noted that vertical farming is a new technology that may offer opportunities to help Scotland increase its local food production and bring food production closer to the consumer. The SNP manifesto for the 2021 election made a commitment to support the development of vertical, low carbon farms, fuelled by renewable energy, to produce more fruit and vegetables.

Vertical farming is an indoor technique where crops are produced in vertical structures such as stacks, trays or small towers to increase production per square meter. This approach can be used in small, scalable shipping containers, in retrofitted buildings or in purpose-built facilities. It often incorporates hydroponic or aeroponic growing systems. While leafy greens are currently the most common crop, research is in progress on a range of other plants, fish, insects and algae.

The first question in this part of the consultation asked:

Q22a: Have you considered using vertical farming technologies?

As shown in the following table, relatively small numbers (less than one in five respondents) have considered using vertical farming technologies; one in three said it is unsuitable for them, and one in four respondents (mainly individuals) did not know what it is.

Table 14 - Q22a: Consideration of using vertical farming technologies
  Yes, work with / planning to Yes, no decision made, not enough info Yes but not going ahead No, not suitable DK what vertical farming is Not answered
Campaigning / advocacy (17) 1 1 1 6 1 7
Community interest / social enterprise (7) - 1 - 3 - 3
Education / Academic / Research (4) 2 - - 2 - -
Environment / conservation (5) 1 - - 1 1 2
Food / food retail / producer / distributor (9) 1 1 3 3 - 1
Local authority (3) - - - 1 - 2
Public sector / NDPB (5) - - - - - 5
Representative body (17) - 3 1 8 2 3
Third sector (food) (6) - 1 - 3 - 2
Third sector (non-food) (4) - - - 2 - 2
Other (4) 1 - - 1 1 1
Total organisations (81) 6 (7%) 7 (9%) 5 (6%) 30 (37%) 5 (6%) 28 (35%)
Individuals (217) 8 (4%) 18 (8%) 8 (4%) 67 (31%) 69 (32%) 47 (22%)
Total respondents (298) 14 (5%) 25 (9%) 13 (4%) 97 (33%) 74 (25%) 75 (25%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

Respondents were asked to explain their reasoning and 123 respondents provided further details. Reflecting the pattern of answering above, most respondents gave reasons as to why they would not use vertical farming technologies, with relatively few respondents being favourably inclined.

The largest numbers of respondents – a large minority – were of the opinion that other solutions would be more effective and should therefore be prioritised; instead, respondents were keen to promote nature-friendly farming or organic growing, improve Scotland's soils, support local producers, new entrant farmers and glasshouse or polytunnel horticulture, promote more local foraging and increase land availability for these activities. However, there were also a few supportive mentions for controlled environment agriculture (CEA), of which vertical farming is a part.

Alluding to their own situations, slightly smaller numbers of respondents described vertical farming as not relevant as they were either not food producers or their food production focus was in an unrelated area (e.g. small croft, livestock / poultry / sheep / mixed hill farm sectors). A few individuals commented that they do not have the space or time as they only do small scale (garden or allotment) growing.

Small numbers of respondents thought vertical farming would not be appropriate for Scotland generally, due to the variable climate, high winds and no issues with water shortages; other remarks were sceptical about its usefulness in rural areas due to the plentiful availability of space for growing.

Significant numbers of respondents considered that vertical farming would be very or too expensive, particularly in terms of capital requirements and high start-up costs. Three respondents complained about the lack of support or funding with vertical farming trials, premises and training.

Concerns about vertical farming using too much energy, plastics and other resources were raised by similar numbers of respondents. These comments perceived that the use of synthetic fertilisers and chemicals, and the sources of nutrients to feed a hydroponic system, were incompatible with sustainable practices.

Further concerns were raised, again by similar proportions of respondents, about growing without outdoor soil or sunlight. Food grown in this way was perceived to have less nutrient value than soil-grown food. The growing mediums used were perceived as less nutrient and microbial diverse. Worries were also expressed about the lack of pollination.

A significant minority of respondents – including a large minority of organisations - commented that vertical farming was only suitable for a limited range of crops such as salads, herbs and micro-vegetables (due to the growing trays not being deep enough to grow roots). Vertical farming was therefore not envisaged as capable of replacing most conventional food production.

It was also noted by a large minority of organisations that vertical farming misses out on other positive elements relating to food production such as forming a connection to the outdoors, jobs, culture, community wealth building, environmental stewardship and support of biodiversity, and assisting a Just Transition.

There were also a significant minority of comments indicating general scepticism about vertical farming including remarks that profits would be potentially concentrated in the hands of large corporations, that it was an unnecessary technology 'fix', and that it was a simply a gimmick. A campaigning / advocacy organisation summed this up as follows:

"I understand why there is interest in this area. But there are limitations. Food is more than stuff created to satisfy hunger. It comes with livelihood, jobs, culture, environmental stewardship etc. Vertical farming is expensive, will not be able to emulate the soil plant relationships and transfer of exudates, proteins and phytochemicals and wide range of trace elements that the huge soil biota facilitate. In the not too distance, most jobs in vertical farming will disappear to AI and robots and algorithms. Investment and profits will be centralised into a very few wealthy corners. I do not see vertical farming being a useful part of a fairer, greener and wealthier (wellbeing) Scotland. In the long run, it won't be the smarter option."

Among the relatively few respondents who indicated that they work with or are planning to work with a vertical farm, and those yet to make a decision, the largest numbers indicated that they were still researching the topic and its potential impacts (e.g. climate impact).

Similar numbers of these respondents indicated that they were either waiting for the technology to develop or playing a role in developing it themselves. Active work in progress or intending to be undertaken was described by very small numbers of respondents as follows:

  • Broadening uses to crops other than herbs and salads (e.g. seed potatoes, soft fruit, pharma, forestry seedlings).
  • Developing pre and post-harvest environments, so that techniques are sustainable, resource efficient and carbon neutral.
  • Trophic integration across agricultural processes to reduce waste or recycle nutrients.
  • Integrated vertical feedstock for dairy farming.
  • Hydroponic vertical farming (i.e. growing without soil or water).
  • Insect farming.
  • Work to increase yields.
  • Vertical farming in aquaculture (e.g. mussel farming).

A few respondents focused on the potential benefits from vertical farming as follows:

  • Production of healthier, cheaper food.
  • Growing plants and vegetables in local areas where otherwise it would not be possible, due to control of the environment.
  • Creation of local employment and local production and markets.
  • Provision of opportunities for diversification and innovation.

Very small numbers of respondents were more cautious; they would view vertical farming positively as long as there were no environmental drawbacks or as long as it was accessible and affordable to set up.

A representative body summed up the state of play as follows:

"Vertical farming is a developing technology. It has potential to support production in Scotland, in particular for products that cannot be produced in Scotland, or that have particular environmental requirements. For production of produce through vertical farming to thrive in Scotland it will need an economic model that supports its use and can deliver in conjunction with traditional farming."

The next question went onto ask:

Q23a: What effect would increased usage of vertical farming have on food imports to Scotland?

As shown in the following table, a majority of respondents who expressed an opinion (72%) thought increased usage of vertical farming would significantly or slightly reduce food imports to Scotland, compared to 19% who thought it would have no effect and 9% who thought it would increase exports.

Table 15 - Q23a: Effect of increased vertical farming on food imports to Scotland
  Signif reduce Slightly Reduce Have no effect Slightly increase Signif increase Don't know Not answered
Campaigning / advocacy (17) 1 3 6 1 - 1 5
Community interest / social enterprise (7) - 2 - 1 - - 4
Education / Academic / Research (4) 1 2 - - - 1 -
Environment / conservation (5) - 2 - - - - 3
Food / food retail / producer / distributor (9) 2 3 1 - - 2 1
Local authority (3) - - - - - 1 2
Public sector / NDPB (5) - - - - - - 5
Representative body (17) - 2 - 2 - 6 7
Third sector (food) (6) 1 - 1 - - - 4
Third sector (non-food) (4) - 1 1 - - - 2
Other (4) 1 1 1 - - - 1
Total organisations (81) 6 (7%) 16 (20%) 10 (12%) 4 (5%)
  • - (-)
11 (14%) 34 (42%)
Individuals (217) 24 (11%) 38 (18%) 12 (6%) 5 (1%) 2 (1%) 43 (20%) 93 (43%)
Total respondents (298) 30 (10%) 54 (18%) 22 (7%) 9 (3%) 2 (1%) 54 (18%) 127 (43%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

Respondents were asked to provide details about their answer; 101 responses were received. Reflecting the pattern of answering above, most respondents gave reasons as to why imports might reduce, albeit with many answers giving caveats.

The main theme highlighted (by a large minority of respondents overall, and by a majority of organisations), was that imports would be reduced for a restricted variety of crops only. Salads, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers were all quoted in this respect, whereas some or most crops (e.g. avocados, bananas, citrus fruits) will still need to be imported as they cannot be grown easily in vertical food systems. However, smaller numbers of respondents (but still a significant minority) foresaw a much more significant effect if extra crops such as seed potatoes, brassicas, soft fruits and full seed-to-harvest crops reached commercialisation and were widely adopted.

A significant minority foresaw an increase in home grown or locally grown produce resulting in improved food security and Scotland becoming less reliant on imports from other countries (such as Spain, the Netherlands and Peru), with small numbers adding that crops will be able to be grown all year round and in areas where they are not normally able to be grown. A very small number noted that vertical farming had successfully displaced imports in other countries (e.g. the Netherlands, Finland).

A few respondents thought there would be only slight decreases in imports, foreseeing limits to the scale of vertical farm rollouts, though the effects may be greater given time; similar numbers pointed out that the technology still needs developing and that the industry needs to be built up.

A few respondents (almost all of whom thought vertical farming would reduce food imports) preferred to focus on other perceived benefits derived from vertical farming as follows:

  • Reduced food miles and shorter and simpler food supply chains.
  • Environmental benefits including reducing the environmental load on overseas growing areas, a reduction in packaging, less need for chilling, freezing or gassing to preserve products, a lower CO2 foot print and less waste being produced.
  • Greater efficiency (e.g. faster growing times, better seedling or plant health, helping economic growth and reducing trade imbalances).

However, a significant minority (including a large minority of organisations) advocated an increase in focus on other growing methods as well as on vertical farming: agro-ecological methods, fresh organic production, use of waste ground or otherwise unused areas, sustainable seafood and glasshouse growing heated by renewable energy were all mentioned in this connection. In tandem, several comments alluded to vertical farming being most useful when used as complementary to other farming and food production methods; a preference for traditional farming or food production (and its associated benefits) was also advocated by small numbers of respondents.

Other caveats were also expressed by small numbers of respondents who thought vertical farming would reduce imports as follows:

  • Concerns about sustainability in vertical farming regarding energy use and climate impact, with some worries that the effects will be worse than those arising from importing produce.
  • Perceived dependence on the purchasing behaviour of the large supermarkets (as these have a lot of control over supply chains).
  • Doubts as to whether vertical farming is needed in Scotland, given perceptions of available growing spaces, a sparse population and ready availability of water.
  • The risks vertical farming is perceived to present to the human connection to food, natural cycles and the reinforcement of a local food growing culture and systems.
  • Concerns about the affordability of locally grown food generally.

Among the relatively small number of respondents who thought vertical farming would increase imports, two main themes emerged, both espoused by a significant minority; firstly that initial outlays would be too costly and therefore financial or governmental support would be needed to set up vertical farms, and secondly, as stated by a large minority of organisations overall including most advocacy and campaigning bodies, the view that vertical farming is not well suited to growing staple foods such as root vegetables and cereals.

Finally small numbers of respondents reiterated their scepticism about vertical farming, stating a preference for outdoor food or food grown seasonally, and opposing support or funding being given to vertical farming.

The next question went onto ask:

Q24: Would vertical farming cause an increase, decrease or have no effect on the following concerns compared with conventional production?

As shown in the following table, a large majority of respondents who expressed an opinion thought that vertical farming would cause an increase in electricity usage, freshness of produce and cost of production; and a decrease in emissions from transportation, pesticide and fertiliser usage, and land use. Opinions were split fairly evenly regarding water usage, packaging, labour requirements and seasonality of produce, though slightly greater numbers of respondents foresaw a decrease than an increase regarding these concerns.

Table 16 - Q24: Effect of vertical farming compared with conventional production
  Increase Decrease No effect Don't know No response
Emissions from transportation 19 (6%) 76 (26%) 24 (8%) 34 (11%) 145 (49%)
Pesticide and fertiliser usage 25 (8%) 64 (21%) 16 (5%) 47 (16%) 146 (49%)
Water usage 49 (16%) 55 (18%) 14 (5%) 33 (11%) 147 (49)
Electricity usage 91 (31%) 16 (5%) 9 (3%) 36 (12%) 146 (49%)
Packaging 30 (10%) 31 (10%) 47 (16%) 41 (14%) 149 (50%)
Land use 6 (2%) 100 (34%) 16 (5%) 29 (10%) 147 (49%)
Labour requirements 38 (13%) 43 (14%) 20 (7%) 49 (16%) 148 (50%)
Seasonality of produce 39 (13%) 50 (17%) 21 (7%) 40 (13%) 148 (50%)
Freshness of produce 77 (26%) 8 (3%) 24 (8%) 42 (14%) 147 (49%)
Cost of production 54 (18%) 19 (6%) 10 (3%) 66 (22%) 149 (50%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

Respondents were asked to provide examples concerning their answers; only 60 respondents commented. Most respondents chose to give reasons for their answers at the previous question with few examples given, and many added caveats.

Comments regarding emissions from transportation tended to focus on transport mileage covered. The overwhelming reason given for decreases was a perception that increased local production through vertical farming would mean less transportation necessary from abroad. Most comments about increases thought this would come about as a result of increased production from spread out vertical growing in what were previously non-agricultural growing areas; there were also a couple of comments about an increase arising from the traffic necessary for building and maintaining vertical farming facilities. Most comments however said that emissions depended on where vertical farms were situated with some views that emissions would be greater if they were situated in remote regions, but less if in urban areas.

Pesticide and fertiliser usage views were very polarised: perceived decreases were purported – by a large minority of answering respondents including a majority of organisations – to be because of growing produce in an indoor, sterile environment, while slightly smaller numbers viewed increases in man-made, artificial or chemical nutrients as being necessary due to the lack of soil or manure-based fertiliser used. Alternatively, a very small number of respondents thought more organic fertiliser would be used due to the lack of soil nutrients to access. The latter two viewpoints were however refuted by one organisation as follows:

"The vertical farm is a totally controlled environment and by using clean-room technology it needs no pesticides, fungicides or biocides. We use nutrient solutions as a replacement for fertilisers in a circular system with no waste. This leads to important consequences: it eliminates the release of harmful chemicals and the consequent environmental impact. Other than oxygen, a … vertical farm has zero emissions; nothing to air, nothing to ground, nothing to landfill." (Other organisation type)

Comments about water usage were more nuanced; the two main points were that this would depend on the ease of sourcing water, with a few respondents perceiving that this would not be a challenge for Scotland; and that it would depend on the implementation of water recovery, filtering, and recycling systems. A few organisations gave evidence pointing to especially large decreases in water usage, as noted below:

"All reports on VF to date highlight the ability of VF systems to grow produce with a significantly reduced level of water use: ~80-90% depending on the crops and VF growing system (e.g. fine mist sprayers [aeroponics]; shallow water [NFT] irrigation; deep water culture [DWC])" (Education / academic / research organisation)

Almost all the comments about electricity usage saw increases arising due to high (e.g. 24 hour) lighting requirements, the automation operations needed to grow food intensively, and high heating requirements; though there were a few widely varying estimates given regarding the latter. A small number of respondents noted that increases could be ameliorated if renewable power was used or via energy sharing or storage solutions; similar numbers thought electricity usage would depend on the types of foods being grown and the precise technology used. A representative body (amongst other organisations) gave the following example:

"… lettuces grown in traditionally heated greenhouses in the UK need an estimated 250kWh of energy a year for every square metre of growing area. In comparison, lettuces grown in a purpose built vertical farm need an estimated 3,500kWh a year for each square metre of growing area."

Relatively few comments were received about packaging; most thought usage would depend on the distances vertical farms were from urban centres, or the types of retailer used for selling the produce (supermarkets were regarded as using significant amounts of single use packaging). A very small number of respondents thought that with washing of produce eliminated (due to a sterile environment) resulting in less residual water content, more use of reusable and recyclable packaging would be possible; local transportation and extended shelf lives would also help with this effect.

Decreases in land use were most frequently seen as being a result of building vertically meaning smaller areas are used. Slightly smaller numbers of respondents commented that vertical farming can be conducted in cities or on brownfield sites, resulting in no increased need for farmland; similar numbers felt however that vertical farms may be best located in remote areas due to plentiful land being available. A few respondents foresaw a need for comprehensive planning legislation for vertical farming projects, partly to ensure they are not built on fertile arable land. However, several respondents supported the following approach regarding land use:

"Vertical farming is part of a 'land sparing' focus which involves the intensification of agricultural production in some places to allow for biodiversity conservation in others (e.g. through 'rewilding'). Land sharing, such as agro-ecological approaches, instead involve farming practices that also have environmental (including biodiversity) benefits. We believe it is essential to focus on practises which focus on 'land sharing' rather than 'land sparing', as this has greater environmental benefits overall" (Representative Body)

Views about labour requirements were polarised: significant numbers of comments referred to increases because of the creation of specialist or high-tech jobs, or through local production and jobs created in the broader supply chain, but similar numbers foresaw a decrease because of automation impacts (e.g. in crop monitoring, sowing and harvesting).

The majority of comments about seasonality of produce referred to the ability to grow without seasonal considerations, though somewhat paradoxically a few respondents perceived an all year round growing season derived from an artificial environment as being more conducive to an increase rather than a decrease in seasonality.

Most of those perceiving an increase in freshness of produce cited that this would depend on whether the time between production and consumption was reduced or if growth centres were nearer the point of sale, with some mentions of the ability to adjust supply of produce to meet demand through control of lighting and ventilation. A very small number of respondents viewed the lack of need to wash crops as doubling their shelf lives with a consequent positive impact on freshness. A few respondents voiced a need to focus on nutritional values and taste of food grown under vertical farming conditions as well as product freshness.

A large minority of commenting respondents stated that start-up or initial costs of production would be high, albeit these should reduce with increasing scale and industry innovations. Significant numbers also foresaw high costs of heating and lighting as leading to higher costs of production. Among the very small numbers of respondents predicting a decrease, mentions were made of this being enabled by reduced costs of transport and the advent of picking and packing technology. Several respondents however voiced a warning about high upfront costs having knock-on detrimental aspects as stated below:

"Clearly there is a large upfront investment that is typically not manageable for smaller producers but attractive to large national operators and investors who can carry this through on a large scale to benefit from economies of scale. In doing so, the potential benefits of these investments are experienced not locally by communities but by larger national operators." (Campaigning / Advocacy Organisation)

Significant numbers of respondents made general caveats about the question, as follows:

  • Increases or decreases in the specified factors are dependent on which crops are being grown by vertical farming or conventional methods.
  • Increases or decreases in the specified factors depends with which conventional production system vertical farming is being compared (e.g. glasshouse farming (vertical farming may be more water efficient), open field horticulture production (less water efficient), organic / sustainable / agro-ecological methods (less fertiliser or pesticides use), conventional industrial farming).
  • Increases or decreases will depend on the numbers, prevalence, scale and location of vertical farms.

Finally, negative comments about vertical farming were again voiced by a significant number of respondents, again citing reasons such as limitations on the types of crops possible, perceived threats to the food experience engendered by Scottish premium quality products and a failure to connect people with food.

The next question asked:

Q25a: What barriers do you see to the uptake of vertical farming in Scotland?

As the following table demonstrates, the main barriers to vertical farming uptake, each of which were cited by at least one in two of those respondents who answered the question, were foreseen to be capital expenditure costs, lack of knowledge or skill in vertical farming techniques, lack of awareness of vertical farming techniques and the economic return or cost per unit being too high. Lack of supply chain integration, regulatory barriers and a lack of market were each cited by one in four answering respondents or fewer.

Table 17 - Q25a: Barriers to the uptake of vertical farming in Scotland?
  Number %
Regulatory barriers 41 14
Capital expenditure costs 119 40
Economic return / cost per unit too high 77 26
Lack of supply chain integration 43 14
Lack of awareness of vertical farming techniques 90 30
Lack of knowledge or skill in vertical farming techniques 95 32
Lack of market 28 9
Other 32 11
None 7 2
No response 146 49

Respondents were asked to provide examples concerning their stated answers; 79 responses were given.

The main regulatory barriers discussed were planning consent and planning regulation issues. Respondents complained that the planning consent process takes too long and therefore added to costs, and about a lack of planning guidance for Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). There were also a few requests for the establishment of industry standards (e.g. quality, safety and kitemark certifications). Other remarks alluded to problematic rules and regulations such as OFGEM refusing to allow re-allocation of heat from RHI-contracted anaerobic digester plants to heat CEA facilities, and horticulturalists being kept away from vertical farming technology because it can't be organically certified due to lack of soil.

Concerns over capital expenditure costs elicited the highest numbers of comments; the majority pinpointed high initial start-up costs and outlays such as for specialist equipment, the technical experience needed to operate it, and construction and building material costs. A high number also foresaw barriers to undertaking vertical farming on a small scale, stating that only large scale food or industrial companies or external funds from investors would be able to provide the necessary wherewithal to access the technology. A couple of suggestions were made about making some aspects standardised or interoperable to help reduce capital expenditure.

Fewer comments were made about economic returns or costs per unit being too high. Several respondents cited high ongoing costs as being due to high initial outlays. A few mentions were made about high expenses arising from areas such as transport for systems which are remote from urban regions, the minimum wage, and power, technology and artificial irrigation costs, compared to 'free' soil and sun resources. There were a small number of remarks about how standardisation and interoperability of facilities (e.g. data integration across the supply chain) together with increased size would help mitigate running costs.

Most remarks about lack of supply chain integration referred to the perception that vertical farming benefits would accrue to large companies only as these can integrate production into their existing supply chains, potentially outcompeting local suppliers' supply chains. There were also small numbers of suggestions that vertical farms could be built near where food is consumed or at key supply chain integration points, and points made about the supply network needing overhauled. As one organisation in the food retail / producer / distributor sub-group explained:

"86% of Scottish food is bought in supermarkets. They set unified, UK-wide prices, but the costs for reaching their distribution hubs have to be borne by suppliers – this gives a cost advantage for large CEA close to major hubs. For more local distribution, the lack of medium sized or regional supply chains is a major barrier for CEA. Regional veg wholesalers are unwilling at present to offer a price for Scottish produce that is above their import substitution price. Achieving a 15-20% higher price for home-grown food has been critical to uptake of CEA in other northern countries."

Comments about a lack of awareness of vertical farming techniques and a lack of knowledge or skills in vertical farming techniques were almost all made in tandem; almost all remarks referred to the need to raise awareness and uptake of skills, though many respondents were doubtful about the benefits accruing to Scotland's local economies or communities, with some seeing a use only as an export-focused specialism (e.g. to dry, hot, water-scarce countries). A few mentions urged more education and training programmes to support workforce development and the engagement of farmers, market leaders and science leaders; a small number of respondents were concerned at the separation of skill sets at present between workers with growing skills and those with technical skills, and suggested a blend was needed.

Regarding a lack of market, most comments suggested that vertical farming was only applicable to certain specialist sectors such as high end restaurants, urban food niches, or as noted above an export specialism for customers in water-scarce settings. Several respondents reiterated perceived restrictions in the range of food and crops supplied by vertical farms, urging a wider variety to be developed (e.g. plantlets). Small numbers of comments voiced concerns about customer resistance, reinforcing the need for industry and public education to improve customer knowledge and uptake, and the need for affordability and accessibility of vertically farmed food.

In addition, the majority of respondents who gave answers made comments about other barriers. The main focuses of these are summed up below:

  • Queries as to the usefulness of vertical farming to the environment, with concerns reiterated from the previous question in relation to power, fertiliser and water usage, and waste generation.
  • Concerns about a lack of benefits accruing to local communities, with earlier points reiterated about the lack of help in connecting people to the local food system, benefits only being felt by large producers and operators in the food industry, and vertical farming potentially acting as a barrier to local food strategies.
  • Concerns about a lack of health benefits arising from the uncertain nutritional value or content of vertical farm produce (e.g. low calorific value).

Further comments were made about the need for more research and testing of vertical farming technologies, and a need for Scottish Government or government agency support to help with capital expenditure and trialling the technology; loans, tax incentives, government equity stakes, Scottish National Investment Bank involvement, extending the remit of the Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation Grant Scheme and redirecting farming subsidies were all suggested as vehicles to enable the latter.

The final question in this consultation asked:

Q26: Are you aware of any other technologies, other than vertical farming, which would help Scotland produce more of its own food?

As shown in the following table, 107 respondents, or just over one in three, said they were aware of technologies other than vertical farming which would help Scotland produce more of its own food.

Table 18 - Q26: Awareness of technologies which would help Scotland produce more of its own food
  Yes No No response
Campaigning / advocacy (17) 8 2 7
Community interest / social enterprise (7) 2 - 5
Education / Academic / Research (4) 2 1 1
Environment / conservation (5) 2 - 3
Food / food retail / producer / distributor (9) 6 1 2
Local authority (3) - 1 2
Public sector / NDPB (5) 1 - 4
Representative body (17) 9 2 6
Third sector (food) (6) 4 1 1
Third sector (non-food) (4) 2 - 2
Other (4) 2 1 1
Total organisations (81) 38 (47%) 9 (11%) 34 (42%)
Individuals (217) 69 (32%) 108 (50%) 40 (18%)
Total respondents (298) 107 (36%) 117 (39%) 74 (25%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

122 respondents gave a response at this question, though a majority of the examples given were in terms of non-technological farming and growing solutions rather than those involving the use of new technologies.

Among technology-related solutions offered, the most suggested – by a significant minority of answering respondents – was glasshouse technology. It was recommended that using renewable energy such as ground source heat, geothermal, solar and anaerobic digestion could be commandeered to enable the growth of a wide range of produce including Mediterranean foods, a lengthening of growing seasons, and the involvement of a wide range of people. Several organisations espoused the following viewpoint:

"Compared with the huge investment required for vertical farming, it is more likely that it might be undertaken by individuals and communities, perhaps encouraged with modest start-up loans. Glasshouses therefore, in comparison with VF methods, are more likely to make Scotland more self-sufficient and food secure and generate high-quality jobs and economic value for rural communities (unlike the large operators that take away profits to shareholders). Glasshouses can be heated with our abundant renewable energy supplies and similar to other community growing projects, are ideally suited for active participation by a wide range of people incl. kids/schools' learning projects, elderly, disabled, and marginalised people. Glasshouse technology lends itself to adding value to a localised food system run on short supply chains, and builds on community resilience in the many ways that vertical farming does not." (Campaigning / Advocacy Organisation)

Similar numbers of mentions were made giving examples of the opportunities provided by reuse, closed loop recycling and circular economies. These included water use in distilleries, use of residual city heat, use of food waste, composting techniques and technologies, and the provision of heating and lighting from local methane production.

A wide variety of other technologies were suggested, each by small numbers of respondents, as follows:

  • Increased automation or use of robotics (e.g. in crop separation machinery, or to address a lack of labour).
  • Increased use of data to enable more precision regarding nutritional needs or crop yield estimates; the use of drones was advocated by a couple of respondents as an aid to generate data.
  • Other mentions of opportunities provided by renewable energy generation, with suggestions to embed this across the whole supply chain, to aid productivity, to help bring produce closer to consumers and to enable battery-driven land-working tools.
  • Hydroponics (growing plants and salads without soil or water).
  • Aquaponics (a coupling of aquaculture and hydroponics integrating water, plants and fish, which is mooted to give high production yields without use of soil).
  • Greater use of soil science to improve soil health.
  • Fermentation technologies (e.g. to enable human-grade protein extraction from Scottish grasslands, protein suitable for pigs and chickens, and also sugar for further refining); plant-based protein production was also mentioned by a couple of respondents.
  • Lab-grown or lab-cultivated meat, giving possibilities of large scale, cheap and ethical meat production.
  • Gene editing or gene sequencing of crops, with caveats that consumer confidence is maintained and that there are no adverse effects on biodiversity.

Additionally a very small number of respondents advocated a preference for Controlled Environment Agriculture methods other than vertical farming (i.e. with consideration given to both soil and soil-less systems); better market opportunities were foreseen due to the ability to produce staple crops and vegetables in bulk.

There were also a small number of respondents who thought more digital usage would help promote Scottish or local food.

However, a majority of respondents insisted that there should be an increased focus on a variety of non-technological solutions which were perceived as enabling Scotland to produce more of its own food. Most of these were also hailed as being beneficial for the environment and biodiversity.

The most frequently suggested non technology-related solution was allotment or community food growing, with similar numbers mentioning other types of small-scale farming such as market gardening, crofting or gardening activities in schools. Agro-ecological solutions were also mentioned by a significant minority of responders to this question.

Other non-technology-related growing methods and solutions were mentioned by smaller numbers of respondents as follows:

  • Regenerative agriculture (beneficial for soil restoration and fungi, and helping to sequester carbon).
  • Aquaculture (e.g. seaweed, shellfish or algae production), though a couple of respondents wished to exclude salmon farming.
  • Agroforestry (i.e. mixing arable or livestock farming with fruit/nut/timber tree growing to increase biodiversity and provide heat and rainfall protection).
  • Polytunnels (e.g. for soft fruit).
  • Permaculture (i.e. till-free agriculture).
  • Insect farming (for animal and fish feed).
  • Other methods not requiring high input costs and not reliant on developing technologies, including foraging, better stock management and better land use approaches.

A small number of respondents urged changing consumer tastes through education to adjust diets (e.g. to eat more venison, seaweed).

A significant minority of respondents mentioned the need for more research, development and pilot projects to be undertaken, for instance regarding the condition of the seas, sensing technology to measure nutritional content and plant health, and crop science. Allied to this were requests for more investment and support, and concerns about benefits accruing to big business rather than at a local level.

The Scottish Government organised a vertical farming workshop to supplement the consultation responses by bringing together members of the fresh produce supply chain with the vertical farming sector. Discussion was stimulated by questions on the economic, environmental, and practical considerations around vertical farming in Scotland to help Scotland produce more of its own fruit and vegetables. These issues raised during this workshop echoed those provided in consultation responses and participants highlighted the difficulties associated with a new and developing sector, and expressed some optimism about opportunities going forward, including about the range of crops suitable for vertical farming in Scotland. The requirement for energy (particularly electricity), and its cost and the nature of its source, was highlighted as an important factor both economically and environmentally. This was also a consideration for location.


Email: local.food.policy@gov.scot

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