Delphy

This interview details Delphy, an indoor farming consulting company based in the Netherlands. The interview is with Laura S. Bautista, Project Leader - Vertical Farming at Delphy.

Source: Delphy

What is the origin story of Delphy?

Before the inception of Delphy, the Netherlands government had an extension program aimed at aiding agriculture growers in the Netherlands. This program was akin to what the United States has with its universities, academia, and the USDA's extension programs and services.

It operated at no cost to the public, being funded by government resources, and was staffed by a team of extensionists. At some point, the government opted to privatize this service, which eventually led to the formation of Delphy.

Source: Delphy

Once Delphy transitioned into a private extension company, its primary focus shifted towards consultancy. While horticulture was their primary forte due to its prominence in the Netherlands, they also provided support for open-field farming and activities such as fruit tree cultivation. Over the last decade, or even less, Delphy made a strategic decision to venture into the realm of research. To facilitate this expansion, they either established new research centers or acquired existing ones dedicated to exploring novel agricultural techniques, management practices, and innovative materials and supplies. Presently, Delphy operates a minimum of three to four research centers, staffed by researchers specializing in applied research, alongside a greenhouse team supporting the centers in their various activities.

Source: Delphy

What is unique about Delphy compared to competitors?

What sets Delphy apart from other companies is their unwavering commitment to the practical applications of technology. They prioritize understanding how to achieve specific goals, emphasizing the "how" over the "why" or the comparative advantages of a particular approach. While exploring the underlying principles and value propositions is certainly important, Delphy's primary aim is to develop nearly turnkey solutions and industry best practices.

As an example, I've had the privilege of working in one of our research centers, specifically the Improvement Center, which is dedicated to advancing Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). Our state-of-the-art facilities include advanced greenhouses that align with the Netherlands' high-tech standards, as well as indoor and vertical farms.

Source: Delphy

Considering your role and involvement with companies in this field, could you please share some insights regarding the current status of the industry and your observations on the differences between vertical farming and high-tech greenhouses?

The feasibility of vertical farming varies greatly depending on the geographic location. For instance, if we consider the Netherlands, greenhouse production for specific crops has reached optimal standards over the years, resulting in remarkable efficiency. This harmonizes with the technology employed for growing these crops. Typically, the focus is on vegetables and ornamentals, with only a handful of companies attempting to use vertical farming for food crops. They've encountered significant challenges due to fierce competition with traditional greenhouse production and the pricing of greenhouse-grown products.

Source: Delphy

When we broaden our perspective to encompass all of Europe, it becomes apparent that vertical farming faces substantial hurdles when it comes to food production. This is primarily because a significant portion of the food supply originates from open-field greenhouses, and the cost of food is relatively low. Europeans are accustomed to affordable, high-quality food. Therefore, vertical farming is not a viable option for standard food products in Europe. Only a few companies have achieved success, typically by offering unique products with significant added value, such as microgreens, exotic mushrooms, or certain herbs.

We're focusing on microgreens, exotic mushrooms, and certain herbs that aren't commonly cultivated in this region—essentially, more unique and less conventional crops. What intrigues me about indoor farming is its innovative approach, utilizing distinct technology. Initially, there was a widespread effort to decipher its application. Over time, however, we've come to realize the importance of flexibility. There's no universal business model applicable everywhere, as each area presents its own set of contexts, environments, and market dynamics.

Source: Delphy

To leverage vertical farming effectively, one must carefully consider the technology's suitability for the specific area. It's not merely about employing the technology for growing anything; it's about determining what aligns with the region's needs. Additionally, we must assess whether vertical farming proves more efficient than other existing systems for the particular products we aim to cultivate.

Our observations indicate that vertical farming holds promise in certain regions, where it has proven successful for specific companies. This success is particularly notable in areas where traditional greenhouses might not be the most viable option. The key lies in identifying the best fit for the technology within the unique conditions of each locale.

Source: Delphy

The Middle East serves as a notable example of a region where indoor farming could thrive, and I believe Canada similarly presents opportunities for such ventures. Specifically, areas with consistently extreme weather or climates throughout the year could benefit from indoor farming. Take Canada, for instance, where high temperatures prevail in the summer and frigid temperatures in the winter are commonplace. Managing a greenhouse in winter necessitates substantial heating to combat sub-zero temperatures, while in summer, effective cooling mechanisms are essential due to scorching temperatures, surpassing those experienced in the Netherlands.

Source: Delphy

The success of greenhouse farming in the Netherlands is largely attributed to its mild and homogeneous climate. The country experiences relatively consistent weather conditions, with no extreme lows or highs. However, replicating this success in other regions poses challenges due to differing climates. For example, islands or areas prone to hurricanes require structures capable of withstanding these powerful storms, a feature not inherent in traditional glass or current greenhouse designs. Even in the Netherlands, occasional severe winds can lead to greenhouse damage during specific storm types.

Adapting to diverse climates is a key consideration for the expansion of greenhouse farming beyond regions with temperate and stable conditions. Whether addressing the intense heat of the US Midwest or the tropical storms in hurricane-prone areas, innovative solutions are essential to overcome the limitations of conventional greenhouse structures.

Source: Delphy

Have you observed any recent trends in vertical farming, whether related to crops, lighting, or any other aspects within the industry?

I believe there were numerous trends in the past year, particularly in the realm of agriculture. From my recollection, microgreens, such as small green crops like leaves, have become highly standardized in terms of production methods and technology. This makes them relatively safe crops to cultivate on indoor farms, with a high potential for profitability given the wealth of existing knowledge and successful companies in this sector.

Source: Delphy

The agriculture industry as a whole is evolving, with a focus on pushing beyond conventional practices. In regions lacking local production of certain crops, there is a growing interest in diversifying and exploring new possibilities. However, there was a notable phase where attention shifted towards exotic crops like saffron, strawberries, vegetables, snacks, cucumbers, and tomatoes. While these crops offer unique opportunities, they present greater challenges compared to leafy greens.

Unlike microgreens, crops like strawberries and tomatoes are more intricate to cultivate because they require the growth of flowers and fruits in addition to leaves. Managing the distinct requirements of these components adds complexity to the cultivation process. Moreover, the energy investment is substantial, as one harvests only the fruit part of the plant, necessitating the growth of the entire plant. This energy-intensive aspect can make these crops more challenging in terms of profitability compared to leafy greens.

Source: Delphy

What are some of the upcoming objectives of the company?

Our main objective so far has centered on enhancing crop cultivation methods, particularly within the realm of vertical farming, to discover more efficient and lucrative strategies. At Delphy, our core emphasis remains on a comprehensive understanding of crops and the cultivation nuances across diverse systems. Our commitment to vertical farming underscores our dedication to advancing agricultural practices.

Source: Delphy

Looking ahead, we are observant of the evolving landscape within the industry, staying flexible to adapt to emerging opportunities. We recognize the potential for vertical farming to serve as a supplement for various sectors, such as greenhouse or open-field cultivation. There is a growing interest in leveraging vertical farming to enhance the production of high-quality propagating materials, including seedlings and small plants intended for transplantation into greenhouses or open fields during the production phase.

Our focus revolves around exploring how vertical farming can add value to agriculture. We remain open to various applications, whether it involves supporting companies dedicated to production or collaborating with sectors interested in propagation or incorporating vertical farming into broader agricultural practices. Our goal is to remain adaptable and contribute to advancements that benefit the agricultural industry as a whole.

Source: Delphy

Approximately how many growers would you estimate Delphy is currently collaborating with?

I believe it's in the thousands, though it's hard to pinpoint an exact number. It's a sizable company with numerous teams, making it challenging to provide a precise estimate. Additionally, we operate on an international scale. In my role within the vertical farming sector, I handle projects and clients across various countries. Moreover, the company has teams stationed in different parts of the world, contributing to its substantial size on a global scale.

Source: Delphy

How can people connect with you or learn more about Delphy?

Website: https://delphy.nl

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/delphy

X/Twitter: https://twitter.com/DelphyNL

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/people/Delphy/100057365653911/

Source: Delphy

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