Scotland’s Rural College is to be the first higher education institute in Scotland to open its own vertical farm for research and education.

The half million-pound facility is to be built at the SRUC's King’s Buildings campus in Edinburgh next year, with the backing of a £200,000 grant from the Scottish Government. It will enable key research into plant and crop science, growing nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables with specific human health qualities, while analysing crop yield and growth rates – with all inputs recorded in the closed environment – to compare their carbon footprint to other production systems.

Read more - Vertical farming research gets government funding

SRUC's vertical farm will operate on renewable energy sources from the national grid, supported by battery technology to manage peaks in energy demand.

With only a handful of commercial vertical farms in Scotland so far, it is envisaged that the facility will be important for demonstration and knowledge exchange with farmers, growers and small businesses. It will also be used by SRUC students as part of their educational activities, looking to a future when such systems will be far more common places of work.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, said: “As we look to produce more fruits and vegetables locally, vertical farming could provide us with a way to make better use of our land. It’s an exciting and innovative field that could bring us real benefits and it is important that we have the skills in Scotland to take advantage of this technology.

“By supporting the industry at an early stage, we can assess these benefits and help to focus our long-term strategy. We will also be reaching out to the wider industry to explore in further detail the opportunities low-carbon vertical farming offers. We will work together to establish the future of vertical farming in Scotland.”

Principal and chief executive of SRUC, Professor Wayne Powell, said: “One of the most critical challenges we face is how to feed a growing global population. We have been teaching farmers for generations but, as the population increases, it is important that we look at growing different, more nutritious crops to support healthy diets and local access to food.

“Not only will this vertical farming unit be a valuable asset to our students, but it will also provide us with important data to help optimise and promote innovation into this expanding industry.”