CombaGroup grows cleaner vegetables
Growing high-quality lettuces, herbs and vegetables locally while saving water and preserving resources: this is the boast of CombaGroup, based at the Molondin Agropôle north of Lausanne.
Using conventional farming methods, one kilo of lettuce requires 250 litres of water to grow to maturity. Grown on CombaGroup’s mobile aeroponics platforms, it needs just seven. What’s more, 10 to 12 harvest cycles can be grown per year in the facility, compared to just one or two out in the field. And without leaching the soil, because there is no soil. The plants are grown in a greenhouse of course, but making maximum use of daylight.
This is no miracle, but a feat of technology: the gardening is done by robots, which are programmed to spray a very precise quantity of nutrient solution onto the plant roots to ensure they grow at the most efficient rate; the dosage depends on the plants’ maturity. “The quantity of nutrients, the height and strength of the mist, and even the water droplet shape: everything is carefully fine-tuned,” says Serge Gander, CEO of CombaGroup. Even the crops themselves are mechanised, because the plants are automatically shunted along as they grow. On each line, the robots are programmed to treat the plants, dosing the nutrient spray with an incredibly high accuracy.
Better conservation and less waste
Closed-circuit fogging also prevents any runoff into the soil. “We can do without it, unlike systems that operate with stagnant water, which is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria like salmonella.” In addition, working in this highly controlled environment means the company can produce foods of consistent quality and quantity all year round. And because it grows locally, close to its consumers, CombaGroup provides a solution with a small ecological footprint. Its customers include restaurants and catering businesses, agrifood and pharmaceutical companies and even cosmetics manufacturers. Avoiding long-distance lorry transport also increases the products’ lifespan and reduces production losses to 10%, compared to more than 60% using conventional methods.
Established in 2013, CombaGroup is a promising scaleup company that employs a workforce of around 15. It now exports to France, where it has won a contract with a distributor of ready-to-eat crudités, and its products will be in the fridge of homes in French-speaking Switzerland from the end of 2020. Discussions with prospective customers are currently under way in the UK, Sweden, Russia and the Middle East, countries which lack the sunlight, warmer temperatures or fresh water for successful market gardening. Highly productive – 80 kg per square metre compared to three under conventional methods – this system may also help meet increasing demands on food supply.
Smart farming & drones