‘Any Step Closer to Climate Neutrality Is An Important One’ | Q&A With Netled CEO Niko Kivioja
Vertical farming technology provider Netled and its client, Swedish herb supplier OMG (Oh My Greens), recently launched the first industrial-scale vertical farm delivering Climate Neutral Certified herbs from seed to shelf. Indoor Ag-Con had the chance to catch up with Netled CEO Niko Kivioja to learn more about this exciting project, why it’s so important, and what’s on the horizon for this innovative company in this month’s CEO Q&A.
Why did OMG Choose Netled’s VERA® Technology for its new industrial scale vertical farm?
Swedish herb supplier OMG (Oh My Greens) produces 2.7 million heads of herbs annually for ICA, the leading grocery retailer in Sweden. Building a major facility with that kind of production capacity is very complex. OMG needed a technology provider who truly understands the technology and also has the experience and project delivery capabilities to carry out a project of that scale.
We call ourselves the one-stop shop for vertical farming, which means that on top of our proprietary Vera® technology we offer all services and support needed to build a commercially viable vertical farming business. This means we provide our customers with the design and planning of their facility, we ship the equipment, and we build, install and commission the farm. We support our customers in getting their farm up to production volumes. We also provide a five-year maintenance agreement to ensure the technology performs optimally.
It can be challenging to combine technology and services from different companies and ensure they work smoothly together. Plus you have to manage the various companies involved in the project. With Netled, you get the entire package under one roof. It’s simpler for the customer because all the various bits and pieces you need to build an industrial-scale vertical farm work seamlessly together. In a facility the size of the OMG project, those bits and pieces amount to around 120 000. So it’s no small feat.
OMG really did their homework in selecting a vertical farming partner. They will tell you themselves that they looked at 17 different providers before choosing Netled. They said that we are years ahead of the competition in terms of technology, know-how, and delivery capabilities. We are honored by that recognition.
What attracted you/Netled to the OMG project
OMG has the same level of ambition as we do: they want to succeed at vertical farming at an industrial scale and continue to grow from there. Our Vera® vertical farming technology is designed in a way that it’s scalable according to the customers’ needs and business case. The size and ambition of OMG’s project was perfect for our technology and service offerings. The growing area is about 25 800 square feet (2400 m2), and it is a big difference to make the automation work smoothly in that volume compared to smaller units.
We are also impressed by the fact that OMG’s customer is ICA, the largest retailer in Sweden. It is a very important step for us that such a significant player in the food retail industry takes a step towards vertically farmed products and sells them under their private label. Like us, they want to be at the forefront of developing a sustainable food system for the future.
We are very happy to see this development happening with big players like ICA, and we think it’s a good sign for the entire CEA industry. Vertically farmed produce is becoming more and more mainstream, and consumers will soon learn more about the benefits of this production method. Netled carried out consumer research this spring, and we found that only 11 % of Finnish consumers really knew what vertical farming was about. However, 95 % of the respondents were willing to buy vertically farmed products after learning more about the production method and its benefits.
It is clear that when major retailers incorporate vertically farmed products into their own store brand, it will open new conversations for us as technology providers.
The farm is described as the ‘first vertical farm in the world delivering Climate Neutral Certified herbs from seed to shelf.’ Can you share more about this designation and why it’s so important.
We are all in this battle against climate change together, and any step closer to climate neutrality is an important one for both OMG and Netled.
OMG is the first vertical cultivation in the world to deliver Climate Neutral Certified herbs following the Climate Neutral Certification programme. The owner of the standard is The Climate Neutral Group, a member of ICROA, the International Carbon Reduction & Offsetting Alliance. They follow strict criteria in terms of Verified Emission Reductions (VERs), and verification is carried out by independent, internationally recognized agencies.
Within this certificate, climate neutrality means both CO2 footprint reduction and compensation. OMG calculates their emissions footprint on a granular level including ingredients, storage, production, packaging, mobility, and upstream and downstream logistics until the products reach the shelf. The facility is built in an old steel factory and it operates with renewable energy: wind power. The remaining CO2 emissions are compensated by supporting an NGO’s agroforestry project of 214 hectares in India. The ultimate goal is to reduce the emissions every year until they reach a 0-emission supply chain.
Netled’s Vera® technology is designed to be as energy and resource-efficient as possible using up to 70% less energy and up to 95% less water than traditional indoor agriculture. It also allows customers to grow 2.5 times more crops in the same amount of space as greenhouse growing.
OMG’s vision is a world where food production is truly sustainable, and we as their technology provider are working towards the same goal. We are constantly striving to reduce emissions and this will be a work in progress as we develop our technology and processes.
What’s next for Netled – any other projects of this scale or other developments on the horizon?
We recently opened our first North American Vera® vertical farm as part of the launch of Netled North America in Calgary, Canada. The vertical farm in Calgary is a showcase facility for North American customers who want to see our Vera® technology firsthand. The demo unit features the same Vera® technology, but on a smaller scale. It will allow potential customers to see the technology up close and discuss their requirements with our experienced team in Calgary.
In terms of other projects, we have just finished commissioning a compact-size Vera® farm in Poland, and we are currently building another industrial-scale facility in the Nordics. We are in the negotiating phase with other clients on some very exciting commercial-scale projects in Europe and North America, stay tuned for more details!
Learn more about Netled by visiting the company’s website — www.netled.fi