Farmers question viability of Government’s vertical farming plan
Plans for a vertical farm facility to produce leafy greens have been condemned by farmers.
The Bermuda Farmers’ Association claims that the $3.2 million government project is not financially viable in Bermuda because of high energy costs, and will not create jobs.
The association has also complained that it was not consulted on the plan, which is expected to provide the island with 30 per cent of its leafy greens.
The concept of a vertical farm, which produces plants in a controlled, indoor environment, was first touted by the Government in 2020.
Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, declared that his ministry “is currently finalising the plans for the development and financing of a purpose-built facility that will have the capacity to produce the equivalent of 200 acres of conventional farmland”.
Mr Furbert added that the farm would also boost employment.
The project appeared to then stall, with no further updates from the Government in the past year, despite repeated requests from this newspaper.
Earlier this month, Jason Hayward, the economy and labour minister, said that, after getting advice from the accountancy firm KPMG, a farm was a key plank in the Government’s economic recovery plan.
Mr Hayward said: “The vertical-farming facility is being acted upon, with a potential location for a large-scale vertical-farming facility under review and financial details in development.”
He added that the farm would “facilitate food security, lower food costs, develop farm crops and create jobs in a new, evolved area of the agricultural industry”.
In a statement last night, the BFA said it was “dismayed” that its members were not consulted on the project.
A BFA spokesman said: “Large-scale vertical farming will not revitalise growth, the economy or labour on the island because the set-up and operating costs of vertical farms for leafy greens are prohibitive in Bermuda.
“At 44 cents a kilowatt hour, 300 per cent higher than average US energy costs, the energy required for 18 hours a day of lighting and 24 hours a day of HVAC, at 365 days a year, makes the costs of vertical farm production for leafy greens prohibitive.
“The BFA has already engaged with the Government on the subject of vertical farming and specifically on solving the problem of the leafy greens shortfall in Bermuda in September 2021. This was in response to then minister Wayne Furbert’s vertical farm business concept.
“At that time the BFA, of whom many members already grow crops in alternative, evolved agricultural methods, discussed with the minister the specific reasons why large-scale vertical farming for leafy greens will not work in Bermuda.
“The Government’s purpose at that time was to reduce the imports of leafy greens by 35 per cent. As no specific data could be provided to the BFA by the Government at that time, the BFA undertook a detailed survey of all consumption, local production and importation of leafy greens to identify the exact produce area shortfalls.
“With the new data, the BFA laid out a solution to the Minister of Home Affairs to address the problem.
“The BFA was of the understanding that they were engaged with the Ministry of Home Affairs to implement their solution and is dismayed to see Government’s insistence on moving forward on a failed initiative via the Ministry of Economy and Labour.
“The BFA is dismayed to learn that no farmers were consulted by KPMG or the Ministry of Economy and Labour before announcing that funds from the $3.2 million of dollars is earmarked for investment will be used to support the development of a vertical farm project.”