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FARMING

Danish startup unveils giant vertical farm

A purple glow illuminates stacked boxes where lettuce, herbs and kale will soon be sprouting at one of Europe's biggest "vertical farms" which has just opened in a warehouse in an industrial zone in Copenhagen.

Danish startup unveils giant vertical farm
A robot, used to plant seeds and check the plants while growing, moves past vertical racks at the vertical plant farm 'Nordic Harvest'. Photo: AFP

Fourteen layers of racks soar from floor to ceiling in this massive, 7,000-square-metre hangar used by Danish start-up Nordic Harvest.

The produce grown here will be harvested 15 times a year, despite never seeing soil or daylight. It is lit up around the clock by 20,000 specialised LED lightbulbs.

In this futuristic farm, little robots deliver trays of seeds from aisle to aisle.

The large aluminium boxes are mostly empty for now, but lettuce and other leafy greens will soon be growing.

Some 200 tonnes of produce are due to be harvested in the first quarter of 2021, and almost 1,000 tonnes annually when the farm is running at full capacity by the end of 2021, explains Anders Riemann, founder and chief executive of Nordic Harvest.

That would make the Taastrup warehouse one of Europe's biggest vertical farms.

These urban facilities have unsurprisingly received a cool welcome from rural farmers, who have questioned their ability to feed the planet and criticised their electricity consumption.

But Riemann stresses the environmental benefits of his farm, with produce grown close to consumers and its use of green electricity.

“A vertical farm is characterised by not harming the environment by recycling all the water and nutrition or fertiliser,” says Riemann, who uses no pesticides.

In Denmark, a world leader in wind farms, about 40 percent of electricity consumption is wind-based.

“In our case, we use 100 percent energy from windmills which makes us CO2-neutral,” he adds.

While he wouldn't disclose how much Nordic Harvest's electricity bill comes to, he said the power came with “wind certificates” registered on the Danish commodities exchange.

These legal documents guarantee that “the amount of electricity you consume in one year is equivalent to the electricity produced by numbered windmills offshore”.


Photo: AFP

First developed around a decade ago, vertical farms have taken off in Asia and the United States, which is home to the world's biggest.

The idea has slowly started to catch on in Europe.

Urban farming could even allow land exploited by single-culture farming to be reforested, Riemann said.

“We moved the forests in order to have fields,” he laments, noting that now farmers like him can bring “some of the food production back into the cities where you can grow on much smaller land and space optimised in height”.

His farm uses one litre of water per kilogramme of produce, or 40 times less than underground farms and 250 times less than in fields, he says.

The names of his clients remain confidential, but they include caterers, restaurants and even supermarkets.

According to a poll conducted by the Danish Farmers Union, 95 percent of Danes are ready to change their consumer behaviour to protect the environment.

Nordic Harvest's products are however not labelled as organic.

“The EU regulation dictates that the word organic is linked to the word 'soil' so if you take soil out of the equation you can't name it organic anymore,” he says.

But “we grow on the same terms as organic: we don't use pesticides or insecticides”.

Meanwhile, Aarhus University agriculture professor Carl-Otto Ottosen notes that Denmark “doesn't have a space problem” and companies like Riemann's are largely a novelty that won't threaten Danish farming traditions.

“It works in Japan or Shanghai, where there's no space to farm and where they want quality products,” he says.

But despite what polls suggest, Ottosen insists Danes are still more inclined to buy products based on “price, not taste”.

READ ALSO: Danish agriculture wants to be carbon neutral by 2050

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ENVIRONMENT

‘We still have a chance’: Danish minister’s relief after Glasgow climate deal

Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen has expressed relief that a meaningful climate change deal was struck in Glasgow last night, after a last minute move by India and China nearly knocked it off course.

'We still have a chance': Danish minister's relief after Glasgow climate deal
Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen speaks at the announcement of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in Glasgow on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

“For the first time ever, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned. I’m very, very happy about that,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “But I am also very disappointed that the stronger formulations were removed at the last minute.” 

Late on Saturday, the world’s countries agreed the Glasgow Climate Pact, after negotiations dragged on while governments haggled over phasing out coal. 

Denmark is one of the countries leading the phase out of fossil fuels, formally launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) with ten other countries and states at the Glasgow summit on Tuesday, announcing an end to oil exploration last December, and committing to phase out coal by 2030 back in 2017. 

Jørgensen conceded that the deal struck on Saturday was nowhere near far-reaching enough to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, which scientists have estimated is critical to limiting the impacts of climate change, but he said the decision to hold another summit in Egypt next year meant that this goal could still be reached. 

“The big, good news is that we could have closed the door today. If we had followed the rules, we would only have had to update the climate plans in 2025, and the updates would only apply from 2030,” he said, adding that this would be too late. “Now we can fight on as early as next year. This is very rare under the auspices of the UN.” 

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5C was still possible, he said. 

“We have a chance. The framework is in place to make the right decisions. There was a risk that that framework would not be there.” 

Jørgensen said that he had come close to tears when India launched a last-minute bid to water down the language when it came to coal, putting the entire deal at risk. 

“It was all really about to fall to the ground,” he said. “The assessment was that either the Indians got that concession or there was no agreement.” 

Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, said he was disappointed by the lack of binding targets and global deadlines in the plan, but said it was nonetheless “a step in the right direction”, particularly the requirement that signatories to the Paris Agreement must tighten their 2030 emissions reduction targets by the end of 2022.

“It’s good that this thing with fossil fuels has got in,” he added. “It’s a pity that you don’t have to phase them out, but only reduce.”

He said the test of whether the Glasgow meeting is a success or failure would not come until the various aspects of the plan are approved and implemented by members states.

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