Intravision Group has shone a light on everything from cannabis to planet simulators, with operations as far afield as Kuwait, McMaster University, and the European Space Agency.
Now, through Intravision Greens Niagara, its tech is taking veggies to new heights in Welland.
Starting in Norway, Intravision made its progression across the pond to the University of Guelph’s Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility. In collaboration with the university, the company honed in on how isolated plants in a hyper-controlled environment respond to everything from lighting spectrum to air flow.
While the technology applies to plants grown in space, the fundamentals behind it aren’t rocket science.
Modern farming has drastically evolved to give farmers more control over their crops, but outside in the field, nature still has the upper-hand.
Move the entire growing process inside to a controlled environment, and suddenly the farmer has control over everything. For Intravision Greens, it’s a bit like getting to play God.
“It’s a low-tech approach to a high-tech challenge,” says Nic Keast, a senior project manager with Intravision. “You’re growing plants, plants grow themselves, let’s give them the right conditions and let them do their thing.”
Non-GMO, certified and sterile seeds are planted in-house. Every stage of the plant’s growth, from germination to harvesting, is dialed in, from what spectrum of light the plant gets, to the temperature and amount of air circulated over a plant, to the spacing in a tray.
By the time produce makes its way out the door, there’s a traceable log of its entire journey.
Plants start off on the lower level of a vertical farming system and as they mature, they’re moved up higher. It’s a constant cycle of maturing plants moving up, replaced by seeds below.
Intravision Greens Niagara’s Neville D’Souza, one of the operation’s executive directors, said without insects to worry about, there won’t be pesticides or herbicides used; leafy greens like basil and arugula, are sent out the door ready-to-eat; and the facility will use significantly less land and water than a conventional farm.
Inside the 20,000 square-foot facility, located on Enterprise Drive, one-acre of leaf cover will be grown, producing around 1-million pounds of plants, according to D’Souza.
Undeniably, there’s a lot of work and money going into only one acre, but Keast stresses it’s all about getting the most out of a bit of space.
The Welland facility, now being built, is based on a pilot plant in Toronto where the concept was tested on a small scale.
For their produce to compete with commercial-scale productions, they’ll eventually have to scale, says Keast. There’s the potential for an additional two acres — by knocking down a few walls, they can replicate their current setup.
D’Souza says they aren’t trying to compete with local farms though. Their interest lies in the GTA market, where he says most produce is imported.
“What we are going to produce here, represents just two to five per cent of what is imported, so that is what we are looking at, and the farmers are growing for three or four months, this is growing the other nine months when stuff is imported … this is import substitution, and so it complements what the farmer is growing and not treading on his toes,” D’Souza said.
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This past Friday, some of Intravision’s 2,340 lighting units were being installed above roller racks that will eventually hold plant trays. Keast and D’Souza point out that robotics, framing, the water system, harvesting equipment and a future conveyor system are all locally sourced.
D’Souza said that an operation like theirs will be the first in the world, and believes as the technology becomes more viable, there will be more vertical farms to compliment traditional ones.
It’s still early stages, and D’Souza admits it’s an ambitious goal, but he hopes for the operation to be up and running by the fourth quarter of this year with an expansion within 24 months.