Driving Agricultural Innovation with Data

In many ways, a vertical farm is not like a conventional open-field farm.

Vertical farms are free from the ravages of extreme weather. There is no need for pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. They enjoy a 12-month growing season, providing a source of fresh local food no matter the season.

But perhaps the biggest difference: where an open-field farm runs on labour, heavy machinery, and chemicals with a massive influence from the weather, a vertical farm runs on data, enabling it to optimize growing conditions and produce the best possible yield and quality.

“Among the leafy microgreens and baby greens we harvest daily, we are also cultivating massive amounts of data,” says Barry Murchie, Chief Executive Officer of GoodLeaf Farms, Canada’s leading commercial vertical farm. “Data is our most valuable asset and is revolutionizing the way we farm.”

The technology and innovation in a vertical farm are extensive, from the infrastructure that supports the automated movement of grow benches to the lighting, irrigation, air, and temperature controls. GoodLeaf’s farms — its flagship farm in Guelph, Ont., two currently under construction in Calgary and Montreal — are outfitted with a complex and interconnected system of cameras and sensors to optimize and harmonize all aspects of the farm, including the density and distribution of seeds, the depth and consistency of the growing medium, the amount of time in germination, temperature control, humidity, nutrient loads and recipes, light intensity and spectrum, the CO2 in the grow room and air flow.

In partnership with data and analytics firm Adastra, GoodLeaf has integrated Microsoft Azure Synapse Analytics and Microsoft Power Platform to manage and best use the vast amounts of data collected at the farm. The efficiency and scalability of the Azure cloud platform offers valuable opportunities for GoodLeaf, helping improve the quality and yield of its crops.

“Microsoft has the resources to assist our evolving industry, and that’s very important for us,” says Mr. Murchie. “We’re engaged in pioneering efforts in the vertical farming industry, and we’re working with Microsoft Azure products and services to help us succeed.”

In addition, GoodLeaf is collaborating with Microsoft Research to explore ways the data collected at GoodLeaf, a pioneer in controlled-environment farming in Canada, can help Microsoft expand its FarmVibes.AI program to provide additional value for crops grown using controlled environment agriculture.

“Data-driven agriculture will shape the farm of the future,” says Ranveer Chandra, Managing Director, Research for Industry, Microsoft. “Passionate, innovative farms like GoodLeaf who are using next-gen Microsoft tech are helping to build a more productive, cost-effective and sustainable model for the farmers of tomorrow.”

With the support of tools like Azure, GoodLeaf is looking at future projects that include growing existing plant varieties with higher nutrient values than conventional open-field farming can achieve. GoodLeaf horticulturalists are analyzing the genetic potential of those seeds to learn how to configure growing conditions to extract the maximum nutritional value — for example using all-natural processes to grow spinach with more Vitamin K.

“When you don’t have to worry about pests, disease and weather, you can put more focus on nutrition and flavour,” says Mr. Murchie. “Through our work with Microsoft, we can unlock the full genetic potential of seeds.”

GoodLeaf’s indoor vertical farms use innovative technology to grow microgreens and baby greens in Canada year-round, no matter the season, climate, or weather. Plants grow in a complex hydroponics system with traditional ebb-and-flood irrigation to feed nutrient-rich water to the plants, and specialized LED lights engineered to emulate the red and blue wavelengths of the light spectrum mimic the spring sun — ideal conditions for plants to maximize photosynthesis.

GoodLeaf Farms currently grows Micro Radish, Micro Arugula, Micro Broccoli, Micro Asian Blend, Pea Shoots, Spicy Mustard Medley, Baby Spinach, Baby Arugula, Crisp Lettuce and Spring Mix for grocery stores and the hospitality sector.

About GoodLeaf Farms

With a passion for delicious, nutrient-rich greens, GoodLeaf was founded in Halifax in 2011. Using an innovative technology and leveraging multi-level vertical farming, GoodLeaf has created a controlled and efficient indoor farm that can grow fresh produce anywhere in the world, 365 days of the year. The system combines innovations in LED lighting with leading edge hydroponic techniques to produce sustainable, safe, pesticide-free, nutrient-dense leafy greens. GoodLeaf has ongoing R&D Programs in collaboration with the University of Guelph, Dalhousie University and Acadia University.

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