Food retailer Billa is testing 'vertical farming' in Austria, which it claims is a first among food retailers in the country, according to a statement published by parent company REWE Group.
As part of the pilot, herbs and salads are being grown and harvested in cooperation with Israeli agricultural technology company Vertical Field from local seedlings in a shipping container in front of the Billa Plus store at Wienerbergstraße 27 in Vienna's 10th district.
Billa is planning to construct a second container for vertical farming this year near Vienna. The plants are grown one above the other on several levels and are sold directly in the market after the harvest, the retailer noted.
A single container can be used to grow approximately 2,000 to 3,000 units per month, which means that it can supply fresh herbs and salads from the container almost daily.
The produce will initially include parsley, basil, coriander, oak leaf lettuce and lollo lettuce, with harvested products sold with pressed earth cubes to ensure a longer shelf life.
The container at Wienerbergstraße 27 commenced its inaugural cultivation cycle at the end of last month, with the first harvest targeted for the second half of this month.
From then on, the fresh herbs and salads will also be available in Billa Plus stores.
Additional containers will be set up in front of selected Billa Plus stores, if the vertical farming pilot project by Billa and Vertical Field succeeds, the retailer added.
'Optimal Harvest Yields'
Billa sales director Eric Scharnitz stated, "Vertical farming is a forward-looking idea for offering food as fresh as possible. At BILLA, we are increasingly looking at alternative concepts and ideas to support sustainable approaches to food production or - as in this case - to follow them ourselves. Vertical farming means optimal harvest yields on the smallest possible area and only a few meters to the shelf."
Scharnitz added, "This increases security of supply and our customers can look forward to local product ranges: all year round and literally grown right on our doorstep."
VP of business development at Vertical Field, Ronen Redel, commented, "I think we all have to think about how we can ensure that a growing world population is fed in the future as crop yields are decreasing due to soil sealing, monocultures, the use of chemicals and the consequences of climate change.
"The development of new agricultural land at the expense of our ecosystem and the climate cannot be the solution here, but vertical farming can - especially in urban areas."