The Future Of Farming Might Already Be Here, Inside A Shipping Container
On Hugh McGilligan's farm, it's a perfect summer's day, 16 hours a day, every single day of the year.
"We are completely protected from any natural disasters, rain storms, pests, weeds even -- there's no pollution because all of the air is filtered," the CEO of Sprout Stack said.
It's the farming of the future, packed inside converted shipping containers on Sydney's Northern beaches.
Sprout Stack runs five farms at Brookvale -- in five shipping containers --producing as much as five hectares of traditional mainland agriculture. The shipping container farms run as closed circuits, using about five percent of the water.
But it take just five seconds to walk from one end to the other.
And depending on the crop, they can harvest within a week to five weeks.
"Here we have purple radish," Hugh says brushing his hand across the top of miniature forest of lush leafy greens. "That's our fastest growing crop and it takes about a week from planting through to harvesting."
"That compares to traditional farming where it takes 40 percent longer to achieve the same results."
And they're not just saving on the environment.
Sprout Stack's Mick Harder has pulled off some amazing farming equipment hacks.
"I made a harvester out of a hedge trimmer from Bunnings and some steel offcuts lying around that only cost us $1000 instead of the industrial machine that's around $100,000," Mick said while feeding his ingenious machine with the latest crop.
They don't even use soil.
Instead everything is planted into coconut husks, which are mulched in a concrete mixer -- another hack that has saved them thousands of dollars in equipment.
And they've even tinkered with Mother Nature and the precious light she provides.
Plants only use red and blue light -- mixed together it forms a beautiful fuchsia -- for all the protein and nutrients they need. So that's all that's used on these farms.
It's about customising the best of nature in a box, including cutting out a big chunk of the rainbow.
The farms can even be controlled over a mobile phone.
Nestled in between Sprout Stack's plant beds is its "nervous system".
"It's a farm management system that tracks the environmental conditions of the farm and the computer keeps the CO2, the temperature and the humidity of the farm ideal for growing plants," Hugh said.
"It's all run by a computer so we don't have to make any decisions -- the computer is providing the plants with the ideal growing conditions."
As we talked, the lights inside the container started switching off.
"I just go an alert," he laughs, peering through the dark at his phone.
"We turned off the air-conditioning and because we are in here the farm has got a little bit warmer and shut everything down, to ensure there's no deleterious effects on the plants."
Sprout Stack poses some interesting solutions to the modern plagues on our food bowls.
"We know that we need to provide an awful lot more food and we can't do that just throwing more resources at a strained system," Hugh says.
"We've got to get more efficient about the way that we produce food and use scarce resources like water, and we have got to produce our food closer to where it's consumed."
He then runs through the traditional vegetable supply chain -- or, as he says -- "the reason why the tomato you buy at the supermarket tends not to have very much flavour."
Hugh explains it's generally picked green about a week ago, transported cold chain from the country to the capital city you live in where it sits in a distribution centre for a day.
It then gets redistributed to another distribution centre that sends it out to your supermarket.
"At that point it's often hit with ethylene to ripen -- basically it turns red -- but in ripening it's not really ripening it's just changing colour and in the meantime the nutritional quality of that product has declined."
He claims Sprout Stack's produce is fresher and tastier because they harvest closer to where it is being consumed.
"On average we take about 16 hours between our harvest to store, which compares to about a week for traditional agriculture."