Big plans ahead for local vertical farm Sky Greens

Sky Greens, a local vertical farm, has sky-high ambitions. It has tested out the feasibility of establishing vertical farms on the rooftops of Housing Development Board (HDB) buildings, schools and even multi-storey carparks – and it is not stopping there.

The company was established in 2012 by Jack Ng, an engineer who wants to help countries which have a short supply of land, like Singapore, to still be able to have food security.

It is situated in the north-west of Singapore, at Lim Chu Kang, where much of Singapore’s agricultural industry is centred at. Sky Greens now sells its produce to local supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice and also exports to countries like China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Vertical farming is all about cultivating produce in vertically stacked layers. This method of farming saves space and anything from vegetables to herbs and even fruits can be grown indoors.

Mr Ng says, “Our vertical farm is modular in nature and highly customized to fit the shape and size of the plot. Equally important, our system can be deployed in urban environments such as roof-tops, building facades and floating platforms in reservoirs, lakes and rivers.”

Sky Greens’ system is made up of “rotating tiers of growing troughs mounted on an A-shape aluminium frame” which can be as high as nine meters.  The troughs, up to 38 of which are mounted on each frame, rotate so that the plants can receive a uniform amount of sunlight, irrigation and nutrients while passing through different points in the structure. Each frame only requires half a litre of water and 40 watts of electricity to function.

Sky Greens mainly grows tropical leafy vegetables at its vertical farm, ranging from spinach to lettuce and more.

Compared to traditional open-field farms, they can produce up to ten times the amount of crop using the same area, with their system being able to save up to 95 per cent of its water resources, 75 per cent of input materials and 80 per cent of labour.

Mr Ng credits the innovative nature of his technology in helping Sky Greens to receive seed funding from the former Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (SPRING) in Sky Greens’ foundational years; as well as basic equipment and productivity grants from the agency previously known as the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

Although Sky Greens has been profitable from the start, it pours much of its resources into research and development efforts, which include the “continual experimentation with various cultivation methodologies, environments and crop type in tandem with hardware redesign for improvement and optimization”.

This June, Nespresso and Sky Greens announced a partnership, as part of the former’s One Pod at A Time campaign. Used coffee grounds from Nespresso capsules are recycled as compost for Sky Greens’ vertical farm and added to its nutrient mix. The compost is left to ferment for roughly 35 days, before it is used at the vertical farm.

Talking about the benefits that the coffee grounds bring, Mr Ng says: “Using coffee grounds in compost improves drainage, water retention and aeration in the soil. It also acts as a natural pest repellent, keeping slugs and snails away from crops.”

As for its future plans, Mr Ng said that it has developed an indoor prototype of its vertical farm, which can be used in households and offices.

Suffice to say, for Sky Greens, the sky is the limit when it comes to what it does best – vertical farming.