5 Things To Know Before Starting Your Mobile Vertical Farm


Energy-intensive farming requires energy-intensive planning. Vertical farming is the most high-tech and controlled approach to farming, allowing farmers to grow crops year-round, with limited water and space usage, and fewer natural threats (pests, rainfall, temperature, etc) challenging the farm’s success. While growing crops vertically may seem simple a process from the outside, selecting the right equipment for this type of farm to run smoothly is a daunting task. 

In order to make sure your mobile vertical farming operation is a success, you must have the agricultural knowledge and business know-hows to minimize risk and cost within your operation and business. In this article, we outline the 5 most important factors that you need to consider before selecting equipment.

#1: Who Is Your Customer?

One of the first things you should be considering is your target customer. With the help of technology, growing produce is the easy part. Properly marketing your product to attract a sales niche is the tricky part of the operation. While vertical farming can aid farmers in growing the freshest and most delicious produce, marketing and selling all the produce grown is still seen to be one of the largest challenges faced by food businesses.

Try hosting focus groups early in your operation to help determine your target customer, possible distribution solutions, and the most appealing packaging for your target market. This primary research will help you identify your consumer’s interests, figure out consumer patterns as they relate to food (do they look for organic, locally produced, or other labels?), understand how to make your packaging audience-appropriate rather than trend-appropriate, and build a relationship with the community early. This last point is one to not be forgotten. B2C models rely on customer loyalty, so working on developing your brand’s community is essential from the very beginning. As a bonus to trickle customers in, share product samples.

Image sourced from Montel

Image sourced from Montel

#2: What Crops Are You Growing?

With so many crops to choose from, you really have to be careful to select the right crops for your business. Determine a minimum of 4-5 profitable crops that can be branded to local buyers. Your chosen varieties and their projected yields (based on market prices and your chosen sales channels) will define your farm’s design direction and set up your economic model. This stage is critical to building a solid business plan. So, you need to ground your business and think realistically.

To make marketing and sales easier on yourself, you need to be growing the right crops at the right times of the year, or you need to be able to differentiate your product from competitors in a significant way through price, packaging, or quality. 

For example, you do not want to be growing microgreens, a delicate crop for local consumption, if your city is already saturated with microgreens farmers. Likewise, you do not want to be producing basil in the summer when every other local farm is also producing it. If, however, you can grow quality basil in the winter when supply is scarce and prices are high, then selling your product will be much easier.

#3: Who Will Operate Your Farm/Manage The Equipment?

What is your role in this project? Is your goal to be a farmer, to manage the operations, or neither? Think through these questions in great detail before making your decision.

If you’re an inexperienced grower, know that you’ll require a more highly skilled workforce than you would if using traditional soil-based farming methods. An inexperienced grower will have a long learning curve, lengthening the time it takes the business to reach full production potential. 

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Many CEA business plans don’t take into account that they’ll need a highly skilled head grower and haven’t taken steps to locate such a person until it’s too late. The Head Grower can manage and lead your staff of growers, perform quality control, and keep a track of the care and maintenance of the farm. Given that CEA systems need to be adjusted over the growing season and as conditions change, Head Growers can lighten your burden by getting ahead and planning the change of controls as per crop needs.

#4: What Are Your Financial Goals?

Is your farm for profit? Entrepreneurs often forget that the numbers need to work in order for the business to breakeven and stay in business. Based on your farm design and equipment choices, a capital cost estimate and breakeven analysis needs to be conducted. This will help you understand your capital budgets, and get started on estimating operational costs and crop yield per square foot. 

In terms of cost, piloting your farm can be very useful in determining exact figures, working out any kinks in the system that need to be considered, and reaching desired farm performance.

#5: Where Will The Farm Be Located?

What are the geographic limitations of your farm? Are you willing to relocate to make your farm a success? These are key questions to consider when choosing the most appropriate crops for your farm, figuring out your financials, and where you can make profit.

What is the best location for growing selected crops? The answer to this question is unique, varying from farmer to farmer, and from crop to crop. For example, if you are located in northern latitudes, where the weather is cold and light is limited for 4 - 6 months of the year, then an outdoor farm may not be ideal. In this case, you have two options: a greenhouse with supplemental lighting and heating, or an indoor farm. 

When researching specific sites for your farming operation, it is important to understand local regulations and zoning issues. Once you know where to look based on zoning, regulations, and incentives, begin to target specific sites that fit your particular crop mix and budget.

Once you have the answers to these 5 questions, you’re ready to identify appropriate equipment providers, and select the most appropriate technological solutions for your operation. As a producer of mobile and static vertical grow rack systems, Montel provides you with endless design that can help you get started on designing your vertical farm today. With Montel’s mobile grow rack systems, it is no longer only about the concept of vertical farming but also horizontal farming since you can double your growing capacity within the same square footage. So no need to expand or relocate. It is possible to mount new grow racks or your existing static units on top of Montel’s mobile carriages thereby eliminating the space wasting aisles and bingo…. you just doubled the growing capacity of your farm. 


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