Home grown, totally organic crops is the vision Freeport-based Cube Root has for transforming TT’s agricultural sector by using technology to develop indoor farms.
Cube Root recently held an exposition for investors and customers at its headquarters, where it introduced the concept of a specially constructed container featuring an enclosed, climate-controlled environment.
Managing director Hamlyn Holder said each farm container is capable of producing kale, strawberries, lettuce or 100 different types of crops.
The investment required is an estimated $350,000, which can be paid off in instalments as a farmer simultaneously produces crops for sale.“A $350,000 investment is a high capital investment, but if you look at the operational expenditure and the returns you will get once you sell the produce, it becomes an economical model at that point,” he said. “If you look at the engineering, there is a consistency in growth, and if you compare the economics package to that of imported technologies, ours is very economical.”
Financing, he said, is available from institutions such as the Agricultural Development Bank.
In an interview with Business Day, Holder said there are many benefits to using this type of technology, including its being in an environment where farmers can control the impact of the elements and theft.
“In an open farm there are things like pests, weather, praedial larceny and other...factors. But here it is totally enclosed and controlled and you are able to see how your plants are growing remotely – also over the net, through an app on the phone.
“This type of technology offers a much more controlled environment to avoid any uncertainty when it comes to diseases and pests that may wreak havoc on your plants or fields."
It also allows farmers to grow crops that are not local to the region.
“Technically there aren’t many indoor farms in a 100-per-cent closed-environment agriculture. We are probably, in the Caribbean, the only manufacturer to manufacture from scratch our own container farm. We can grow from kale to strawberries to cherry tomatoes.
"We have done many trials throughout the last year, so we are comfortable at this point that the technology can give that consistency, so it’s basically limitless.
"The only thing we can’t grow is big trees at this point – but seasonings, flowers, fruits: we can do that.”
Holder said one of the company's goals for 2020 is the manufacture of seven container farms for new investors. He said it would also work alongside customers to ensure that events such as a glut of the produce do not take place.
“We also market the product so there is no glut on the market. We are trying to work with customers so that everybody grows and it is sustainable for the business model.”
He said a single farm can produce over 2,000 heads of lettuce twice monthly or once a month depending on demand.
Holder said the technology also ensures that no pesticides are used in the farming process, which instead uses an organic-based nutrient called Azomite and LED lighting systems.
Azomite, according to online sources, is a natural mineral substance which is mined from the desert in Utah and can be used as an agricultural fertiliser and/or soil amendment product.“We are striving for zero pesticides. Our technology is offering the option of zero pesticides (and) protection against bacteria, aphids and fungus.”