Dr. Shao Hua Li is an agriculture academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and director of Institute of Plant Factory, Fujian Sanan Sino-Science Photobiotech Co., Ltd. SananBio has a 100,000 ft2 commercial plant factory in Xiamen, China. Ahead of his presentation at Indoor Ag-Con in May, we asked Dr. Li five questions about his experience with plant factories.
1. Suncore and SananBio are owned by one of the largest LED chip manufacturers in the world. What inspired you to get involved with vertical farming?
Food safety and security is a global concern that needs to be addressed. Suncore and SananBio saw a unique opportunity to leverage the parent company’s high efficiency LED horticulture lighting and expertise to help inspire the adoption of urban agriculture for small and larger commercial farms, primarily through the reduction of cost and complexity of vertical farming grow systems.
2. How is your grow system different from the many other grow systems on the market?
We wanted to ensure three things when designing the grow system: simplicity, affordability, and high yield. A tremendous amount of engineering effort have taken place over the past few years to achieve simplicity and high yield. The integrated lighting fixture, and water circulation, saves farmers time and resources so that they can focus on their business. In addition, the installation of each system takes less than 20 minutes with a two-person team. The modular approach allows an enormous amount of flexibility for farms of all sizes and designs. We believe that technology should work for people, not the other way around.
3. You’re operating a 100,000 ft2 commercial growing facility in Xiamen, China with multiple other large farms under construction using your technology. What were the most important lessons you learned from the experience of building your first large commercial farm?
The impact of electricity usage in farm overall economics is very important. The majority of electricity comes from the lights and the HVAC systems. The latter is partially dependent on the light, which is why we are intensely focused on continually improving light efficiency for our customers. Over the past year we have improved light efficiency over 20% which is a huge savings for our customers. Automation is another way we are saving our customers money and future farms will have a much higher degree of automation to save on labor.
4. What do you think have been the most exciting developments in indoor farming over the past few years?
We’re excited to see more resources being allocated to the study of lighting spectrum and intensity, and its effect on plant growth, flavor, and nutrient content. Well engineered lighting can do so much more than just grow a plant quickly! Additionally, there are some very exciting advancements on farm automation to help reduce the cost of direct labor, that we will be providing to the market in the near future.
5. What’s the most exotic crop that you’ve managed to grow in your system to date? When do you expect it to be available commercially?
Crystalline Ice Plant, or glacier lettuce, is a specialty item that is currently being grown commercially in our farms. The plant has the look of a leafy green, but the taste and texture is quite unique. Our team of botanists and plant scientists are constantly optimizing a wide variety of crops for customers using our systems including fruiting varieties and crops used for medical purposes like pharmaceuticals. The crop diversity growing in our systems are thanks to the system’s versatility and to our team of dedicated plant scientists. Everything from microgreens to obscure Asian greens and herbs can be grown commercially and cost effectively. Our customers are currently growing well over 100 varieties of plants and the list grows with each passing day.