The crops of the future are here

It all started with a patent from NASA that led to large-scale production of vegetables in a closed environment outside Sundsvall for 20 years. Now the technology has been further refined to become the future cultivation system of forest plants - completely digitally controlled and automated.
- The industry works hard to digitize and here we can ensure that the start of each plant is optimal. The world needs more high-quality trees to be planted from a sustainability perspective, says Johanna Johansson, CEO of Plantvation.

Johanna is the third generation in the family business that carries on the legacy of grandma and grandpa who started the company Nypro in the mid 80's. Grandfather with a history in mechanical engineering and Akzo Nobel together had a development of a technology that could produce vegetables in spacecraft. It was originally a license from General Electric in which NASA participated.- Somewhere Akzo Nobel realized that tomato cultivation was not their thing, so grandfather received the offer to run the project further. So, for 20 years he and grandmother produced salads and spices and at the same time developed the cultivation technique, says Johanna.
In 2012, the company received an order from Holmen Skog for a system for forest plants.
- With the cultivation technology for vegetables as a basis, they took a major development step and adapted the technology to forest plants and the use of LED lighting instead of using older HPS lamps. Since this was the first installation of cultivation technology for forest plants, there have been some obstacles, mainly the LED technology that we have worked with Holmen to solve. Today it is a complete and functional production and the delivery to Holmen Skog is completed, says Johanna.

Plantvation was started in 2019 as a spin-off to Nypro for further development, led by Johanna and her father Peter, and to bring the product "QS Greenbox" to market. It is a closed plant for plants that is completely digitally controlled. With the help of an operator screen, it is possible to optimize moisture, heat and "sun", all to create as natural an environment as possible, but in completely perfect conditions.
- I have a great interest in the forest and thrive there, so it feels very good to work with technology because I grew up with this since I was a child. Now I get to be involved and contribute to the development of the forest industry. It has been a challenge to work with the forest industry, which has long worked in a certain way when it comes to forest plant production, but I feel that I have been met with great interest and that we offer something they do not have today, she says.

What would you say is your biggest challenge?

- These are actually our long sales cycles, it takes a long time to process the customers because there is no experience in the field when you go from traditional cultivation to a more artificial environment. Therefore, it has been important to show good cultivation results and that we have a working technology. But a paradigm shift takes time and strategic decisions also take time, says Johanna, who is the CEO with market responsibility.
In Plantvation's system, a plant is cultivated from seed to four centimeters in four weeks. The result is based on a process-based production.
- We get high-quality results with higher germination compared to traditional cultivation, the process becomes more efficient, and it is possible to cultivate all year round. If the plants are produced during the winter, you have a stock of pre-grown plants in the spring packed with more photosynthesis and then the use of the sun during the summer becomes more efficient. In this way, you can go past the stage with greenhouses and increase the production rate at existing facilities, Johanna explains.
The environmental benefits are that no pesticides are needed in the closed cultivation environment. Water consumption is also considerably less.
In their main product, the cultivation area is 100 sqm spread over eight floors, about five meters high. It holds 2 million forest plants per cultivation batch. The entire cultivation center is built at the customer. The season can start in September and then it is possible to cool the plants during the winter.
- It feels great that we have finally delivered to Holmen, which is a big customer for us, the reference facility in Friggesund is an important milestone for us and now we are doing what we can for the forest industry to discover the benefits of our technology. Through the digital foundation we have created, we have good opportunities to develop what has happened in AI. It is a development step for us to take, says Johanna.
AI can read a process earlier than the eye - it can read the color of the plants, how they grow and then adjust any parameter in time. It is often too late to see it with the human eye.
- Here we see a great need in the industry to take the next technological leap. I understand this because we are talking about a living material with genetic variations that is more complex as a material than, for example, steel. A plant is more difficult because it is alive, says Johanna and continues:
- Those who follow the debate understand the importance of the forest as an important resource for the world and climate change.
Plantvation is still a small team with Johanna and Peter, but they have several people around them who can support and the plan is to build up the team further.
- We have a great focus on the market now, I work to process large parts of European markets by the turn of the year. We also have dialogues with several potential employees who have valuable skills that can contribute to faster growth, says Johanna.

Plantvation is located in Essvik south of Sundsvall in a business center with offices and a room where you can perform certain work.
- The plan is to create a development environment where we can have our own tests and optimize the combination between biology and technology, a bit like a showcase where we can build this company, says Johanna.


Read more about Plantvation.

Photo: Johanna Johansson, CEO, Plantvation


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