Introducing… Lettus Grow
IoTUK interviewed LettUs Grow, an innovative IoT company looking to change the way that we grow food here in the UK and beyond. Aptly named Jack Farmer is the co-founder and a director at the company. We sat down with him for a quick chat about what makes vertical farming such an exciting prospect, as well as how IoTUK has helped their business to bloom.
Hi Jack, can you give is an overview of LettUs Grow?
Hi! So LettUs Grow is a startup from Bristol, launched in 2015. We design efficient irrigation and farm control systems for vertical farms that increase farm yields, reduce production costs and make farmers’ lives easier. We’ve designed a patent-pending technology, which delivers nutrients and water to plant roots as a mist – a methodology otherwise known as aeroponics. The crops we are currently growing range from salad greens, cresses, and herbs – the leafy end of the veggie scale – to strawberries and radishes.
Our technology is deployed throughout a vertical farm, with plants grown within our aeroponic grow beds, and all data uploaded to our Ostara™ software platform, which reduces unnecessary labour and optimises conditions for each individual plant species within the farm.
What are the benefits of this technology?
They key benefit of our LettUs Grow aeroponic system is that, on average, we see a 70% increase in the growth rates of plants, compared to the hydroponic systems used in vertical farms today. That is a huge difference for farmers operating in an industry of tight margins!
Vertical farms have a much smaller water footprint than traditional agriculture methods due to the closed-loop nature of our systems. Our aeroponics results in a 95% reduction in water use compared to field agriculture. We grow food all year round, reducing our dependence on seasonal production and also reducing food’s environmental impact and wastage, as out-of-season food doesn’t have to travel thousands of miles from farm to plate.
And what is your background?
I’m one of three co-founders. There’s also Ben Crowther and Charlie Guy on the founding team. Charlie is our managing director, with a background in the design of renewables and sustainable systems. Ben is our CTO, who uses his blend of mathematical, design, and software expertise to optimise farms for our customers.
How did you learn about the IoTUK programme?
LettUs Grow took part in the IoTUK Boost programme in Bristol, run by SETsquared Business Acceleration Centre, High Tech Bristol and Bath, Engine Shed, and the University of the West of England, Bristol. This programme included a range of mentoring with focus on product development, UX design, organisational culture and more – it was a comprehensive course in everything we needed to know. The programme also introduced us to a number of experts and mentors.
Who is your mentor?
We’re actually working with a number of mentors. Steve Kear, of Kear Technology Solutions, has been fantastic. It has been very valuable to have someone that can deliver additional perspectives on our product roadmap. All of this extra knowledge helps us prepare our infrastructure for the massive, data-driven farms of the future.
What’s next for LettUs Grow?
It’s all go! This year we are building our first commercial-scale aeroponic vertical farm in the UK. We’re also working on three pilot projects using our hardware and software that we’re expecting to scale up over the course of the year.
It’s an interesting time for the agricultural sector. With Brexit looming, UK farmers are looking for new business models and new ways of working. Vertical farming offers a means of generating secure revenue for farmers, and reduces exposure to import tariffs and unstable global supply chains for suppliers. Our technology provides people with a new way to grow crops that have previously needed to be imported – we’re excited to work with new growers and suppliers on how this could find new efficiencies for them!
It’s also a really exciting time for the industry. Over the next few months, we will be testing the boundaries of what can be grown in our systems with new crops, like root vegetables, in the pipeline. The team and I are continuously optimising the best mix of light, nutrients and environmental conditions for each species we grow. We’re working with lighting specialists and sharing all our findings with our network of farmers. Most importantly we’re growing a lot of food very efficiently, with minimal resource inputs, which is why we’re all here!
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