LettUs Grow – urban farming to take pressure off the land
Due to intensive agriculture and the increasing demand for food the planet is losing billions of tones of productive soil each year. Bristol startup LettUs Grow has an aim to reduce the waste and carbon footprint of fresh produce by encouraging vertical urban farming, which would allow food to be grown near its point of consumption. LettUs Grow recognised that in order to tackle this problem a fresh look at farming was needed and this is how they came up with the indoor farming solution. It can be used to grow more food on less land, grown closer to the point of consumption and reduce the resource cost of farming. Instead of using soil, plant roots are suspended in a nutrient-dense mist, which results in fast growth rates and 95% reduction in water usage compared to open-field farming.
Farmers are facing new challenges to feed the growing population – battling everything from climate change to degrading soils. Protecting farms against outward pressures is LettUs Grows top priority. They want to help them divest 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.
Founded in 2015, LettUs Grow applied for business support through the Sustainable Technologies Business Acceleration Hub (STBAH) – a business hub associated with the Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies (CSCT) and funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which provides bespoke free support to low carbon and sustainable tech SMEs or start ups in the West of England. Following various conversations it became clear that they required a review of their software architecture by using data science to extract value from the data LettUs Grow record from the farms. Collaborations were made through the University of Bath to help support the project optimising the data collected by their sensor arrays, both in terms of its nature and format.
A partnership developed between Dr Özgür Şimşek, from the Department of Computer Science, as well as Professor Chris Budd, from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, with LettUs Grow. The support enabled the data collected from LettUs Grow to be analysed by the University of Bath data scientists and prevent costly delays to the deployment of the company’s growth ‘recipes’ to their customers. A researcher from The University of Bath’s Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) was able to spend time at LettUs Grow’s headquarters reviewing their current data collection protocols, data sets and related outputs. This project was funded through the EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account, an institutional grant at the University of Bath (Grant Ref: EP/R51164X/1), which contributed to the Sustainable Technology Commissioned Fund. The project was partnered with the CSCT and STBAH.
Talking about the research collaboration with this project Dr Şimşek from the University of Bath, says, “Innovation is critical to ensuring long-term food security and sustainability. LettUs Grow provides technological innovation to the vertical smart farming movement that is currently trending rapidly in the urban context. The knowledge exchange between the University of Bath and LettUs Grow provided significant impact for the collaboration. Additionally impact will be gained from the interrogation of the generated data by the team to help with business planning insights to farmers.”
Co-founder and operations lead at LettUs Grow, Jack Farmer, says, “Our vertical farming technology provides a low carbon, sustainable solution to this problem. It allows farmers to grow and sell product all year round using aeroponics and LED lighting. The systems use 95% less water than traditional agriculture and 30% less than industry stranded hydroponics. Our stacks of grow beds are fully automatable and controlled with our farm management system Ostara, meaning they’re easy to operate and run.
Jack goes onto say, “As with any new start up receiving expert advice and support is key to any business success – getting the product or service right helps – but running all elements of the business is crucial too. Fortunately, there are many business support programmes offering various support for start ups and SMEs – when I heard about the Sustainable Technologies Business Acceleration Hub, it seemed like the perfect fit to see what support could be available to help LettUs Grow.”
Charlie Guy, Co-Founder and Managing Director from LettUs Grow goes on to say, “The global agri-tech industry is very exciting right now, all stemming from the necessity to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of food production. We are fielding enquiries from all around the world from food producers and farmers who want to experience the benefits of our technology across a growing range of crops. The support we have received from the Sustainable Technologies Business Acceleration Hub through the research from the University of Bath has been invaluable and following the data architecture work we now have a real focus to expand on specific areas of our farming.”
LettUs Grow is a fine example of an SME where sustainability is at their core and are tackling some of the greatest challenges facing the world today – CO2 emissions, waste, ecosystem collapse and food security.
LettUs Grow have already received an accolade of awards and more recently have secured funding to help build world leading indoor growing facilities.