Vertical farming has attracted a lot of attention as a way to provide fresh produce for humans but a company called Grōv Technologies thinks the same techniques can revolutionize the global animal feed market. The company’s Olympus Tower Farm system can produce as much as 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of sprouted grass per day, taking up only 857 square feet of space while replacing between 35 to 50 acres compared to traditional farming. And like its consumer-focused peers, the system uses only a fraction of the water while essentially eliminating one of farming’s biggest uncertainties – weather.
The Utah-based startup initially set out to produce and ship the feed itself but has shifted its focus to on-farm systems that provide fresh feed every day. The first adopter of the system is Bateman Mosida Farms in Elberta, Utah. Lance Bateman and his three brothers began using Grōv Technologies’ vertical farm as part of the pilot program three years ago. The farm is the largest dairy operation in the state and is using 6 towers to produce wheatgrass to feed its herd of around 20,000 cows.
The process begins with seeds being loaded into trays that are carried to the top of the tower by an autonomous system. The trays make their way down to the bottom of the tower for harvest over the course of 6 days. Along the way, the plants are monitored by sensors, watered automatically, and exposed to low-heat LED grow lights.
Studies conducted during the pilot on the Bateman dairy showed feed efficiency gains, too. Steve Lindsley, president of Grōv Technologies, says “There are early indications we can achieve up to 5% to 10% feed efficiency where animals are actually eating less on a dry matter per ton basis, but producing as much or more milk.” Those findings were based on the fresh feed at 12.5% of the ration. However, the fresh feed could be boosted to as much as 40%. Gains for beef averaged between about 2.9 pounds per day on a similar ration, Lindsley says. Note this is essentially a grass-fed diet, but he notes that given these gains it may be possible to raise cattle with this system, achieve grain-fed timelines but have a grass-fed finished product.
In an interview with Modern Farmer, Bateman said it probably is not the cheapest feed, “But is it going to be the most consistent and desirable feed for the animals? I think so.” The system goes from seed to harvest in 5 to 7 days with each tower producing around 2,800 pounds of feed a day. That currently amounts to about 2% of the farm’s total feed demand and Bateman has plans to install four more towers by early spring.
Bateman counts localizing their supply chain and reducing the farm’s carbon footprint among the benefits of using the Grōv Technologies system. The savings on land and water expenses also justified the investment for their operation but Bateman says the system’s benefits have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, an Olympus Tower Farm might not be the right answer in a place like Nebraska, where land and water costs are cheaper. But it could have clear value in more expensive agricultural regions, such as California’s Central Valley, he told a local radio station. Bateman also says it could make farming available in areas where it hasn’t been able to happen before. Visit the Grōv Technologies website HERE. (Sources: East Idaho News, Modern Farmer, Beef Magazine)