iFarm vertical farms will change not only the future of urban farming, but also the agriculture in general. Fresh vegetables, berries and greens will be produced in an efficient and environmentally friendly way. The cooperation between Helsinki Business Hub and iFarm is showing results. Finland became the company’s home and the first smart farm near Helsinki will come into operation already this year.
Rapid urbanization, steady growth of urban population, and the resulting ever-growing need for food are the new challenges facing the food industry. How to start the production of vegetables and greens in the cities where free space is scarce or non-existent? How to improve the cost-effectiveness of production processes and to make the enterprise profitable in these conditions? How to produce environmentally friendly products where it is difficult or almost impossible due to climatic features?
You don’t need to look into the future to have these questions answered.
“Vertical farms with a closed ecosystem iFarm save water and space, leave no carbon footprint and require 9 times less area to produce a conventional unit of finished product than traditional greenhouses”, says Maxim Chizhov, Director of Development at iFarm. “Our innovation combines agricultural methods, cleantech and high technologies. But urban farming could not exist without LEDs and an increase in the effective power of the fitolight necessary for plant growth.”
All you need are closed premise, electricity and water
The establishment of a vertical farm requires a closed room with high ceilings, for example, a decommissioned plant or warehouse, and electricity and water connection. For a small production cell, you need only 30 square meters of useful space: such farm will remain unprofitable, but you and your family will have fresh vegetables all year round. For a farm of 300 square meters or more, you will get your money’s worth in three years.
“In contrast to the similar farms, an iFarm allows you to produce several useful crops at the same time. Their growth is controlled by a self-learning artificial intelligence, which is programmed to look for the best methods of cultivation”, continues Maxim Chizhov. “It is a closed system, each rack and even each tier may contain a separate plant species. Among them are cucumbers, berries, salads, spices or medicinal herbs, edible flowers and micro-greens.”
The artificial intelligence greatly helps in obtaining natural products with specific taste qualities and other preferable characteristics, such as juiciness. In doing so, the computer does not develop new plant varieties, but tends to achieve the goal in the most efficient way by regulating the conditions of crop growth ‒ light, water and nutrients.
No pesticides, no carbon emissions
A vertical farm does not need ventilation, so pests cannot enter the ecosystem. The absence of pests, in turn, eliminates the need for pesticides. Another definitive advantage of the closed cycle is that the system absorbs the carbon dioxide it produced. As a result, the carbon footprint of the farm is equal to zero.
Imagine yourself visiting the nearest supermarket on the way home and having chopped vegetables “straight from the garden” on your plate in five minutes. “By way of comparison, ‘fresh’ tomatoes that you can find in any store in Helsinki or Moscow are collected green, processed with a special solution for better ripening, and are delivered to the country of destination within about two weeks”, says Maxim Chizhov. “Vertical farms, for their part, guarantee the freshness of products because these are produced locally, at the point of consumption.”
Organic vegetables, berries and greens in every part of the world
The innovative iFarm system allows for the cultivation of fresh organic vegetables anywhere ‒ in Lapland, Siberia or the arid plains of the Middle East. Given that, the hyperlocal production is not just about following the trends ‒ it is a specific environmental action, an effective, reasonable business model where the significance of complex logistics schemes is reduced almost to nothing.
“We do not compete with the traditional farming: we offer new tools for effective solution of complex problems, even in those parts of the world where it is literally impossible”, says Maxim Chizhov.
Anyway, why Finland?
It is not by chance that the owners of iFarm established their company in Finland.
“Initially we considered Finland, other Scandinavian countries and the Middle East. All these regions are famous for difficult or extreme weather conditions, which perfectly served our needs”, explains Maxim Chizhov. “Of course, the climatic environment similar to that of Siberia was of great importance. But the main factors were Finland’s reputation as a country that encourages innovation and the world-famous Finnish quality. Finnish products instill confidence, and we want iFarm to be associated with Finland.”
But the main factors were Finland’s reputation as a country that encourages innovation and the world-famous Finnish quality.
Maxim Chizhov, Director of Development, iFarm
The iFarm team took the first step towards Finland in the beginning of 2018, when it was a participant and later, a finalist of the GoTech Finlanding competition, an annual event organized by the Helsinki Center in St. Petersburg in cooperation with Helsinki Business Hub. In early 2019, after the next round of funding, the company was selected to participate in a joint venture acceleration program offered by the Helsinki Center in St. Petersburg, Helsinki Ventures and NewCo. Once the strategy to reach international markets had been approved, iFarm management, with the assistance of Helsinki Business Hub, passed to resolute actions.
“We entered in contact with Business Finland, after which Helsinki Business Hub organized a trip to Finland and helped us to meet with the leading players of the market”, says Maxim Chizhov. “We realized it was the right decision. The next steps? Obtaining of business visas, venture acceleration of Helsinki Ventures and, at the same time, registration of a company in Finland.”
First European showroom will be opened in Finland
After having met with potential Finnish partners and clients ‒ especially IBM, Fazer and S-Group ‒ the founders of iFarm became even more determined to establish themselves in Finland.
“We are happy to work with the iFarm team, given their strong experience in farming technologies, IT, commercialization of innovations and management”, says Maria Hartikainen, Senior Business Advisor at Helsinki Business Hub. “We are quite certain that Finland will be an excellent launching pad for the development and global expansion of the company.”
Our intention is to open about 10 farms within two years in Finland only. Each farm will create 10‒15 new jobs.
Maxim Chizhov, Director of Development, iFarm
IFarm is currently building its first showroom in Finland: the new experimental farm will be located inside S Group Logistics Centre in Espoo, the neighbouring city of Helsinki.
“Our intention is to open about 10 farms within two years in Finland only. Each farm will create 10‒15 new jobs”, says Maxim Chizhov. “Also, very promising negotiations with restaurants, supermarkets and Finnair are in progress.”
A good, sought-after idea quickly becomes popular. iFarm is an outstanding example of this.