Alex Fisher on soilless crop production, persistence, and setting up his business – News Couple

Alex Fisher on soilless crop production, persistence, and setting up his business

Alex Fischer is the founder of Saturn Bioponics – a multi-award winning innovator in soilless crop production technology. “It’s about getting the crop out of the soil in order to increase density,” he says.

Fisher started Saturn Bioponics in 2011, describing it as “a long and painful journey.” He has been involved in startups since he was 19, with Saturn Bioponics founded many years later after some experiments he did at the conservatory with a friend. At the time, he had a restaurant project that helped him carry on during the first five years of research and development.

“I had no idea what I was going through, frankly. It was a pretty massive learning curve for me—monstrous,” says Fisher. Some warned him it was going to be hard, but he was stubborn. It had to be; after all, these weren’t Just a new technology – it has the potential to fundamentally transform a very conservative industry.

A 3D hydroponic system typically allows three to four times the density of the plant. “We use 95% less water than the global average in producing lettuce, for example,” Fisher says. “And obviously, in some parts of the world, that’s a really great value.”

“I am a food man, I am a nature man and I am a sustainability man,” Fisher says. “I’ve always been like this. We have to produce a lot of food. And what we do allows it to be done with much less environmental impact: it’s known, it’s controlled, it’s quantifiable. As opposed to just continuing the same old path, just roads, roads, roads.” It will end badly.”

According to Fisher, this reduces some of the stresses that crops come from the soil such as diseases and microbial risks such as salmonella and E. coli. “In addition to the soil harming the crop, the crop is detrimental to the soil,” Fisher says. “Intensive farming is not good for the soil – it really isn’t. But it has to be intensive farming because we have too many people around the world who want to eat fresh food, and the demand for them is increasing. People no longer just want to eat rabbits and cabbage all winter in the UK “.

The possibility is exciting. “The science of hydroponics can drive the crop to some sort of optimum performance. Do we want intensely sweet strawberries? Do we want long-lasting lettuce? These kinds of questions aren’t really for me to answer, they’re actually consumer-oriented.”

“From a regulatory standpoint, what we do ticks a lot of boxes. A lot of food-based regulation revolves around chemical application. We don’t really use anything in the root zone.” Although unlike in the US, in the UK and Europe you can’t claim it’s organic even if you use organic food inputs.

NIMBYism has become a huge problem although there are issues around planning permission. Fisher has one client who has for the past 5 years been in discussions, negotiations and application after applying to put up more greenhouses..

Funding, bureaucracy and mentality are big drawbacks. “It is a conservative industry, farmers have a special mindset. Farmers are not people with big cash pockets, and the financial markets are not set up to support farmers to embrace innovation. Innovate UK, which has played a very vital role in the development of my company, is a fantastic organization. But there is a gap – a big gap “. Retailers are starting to show a strong interest in this area. “While a farmer is key to operating and producing a system and a crop, the way the market is organized is that in the end, the retailer decides what they want,” Fisher says. Fisher explains that two things are really important when it comes to hydroponics: the technology must be sound and the return on investment must be fast.

“I think we in the United States see a real explosive opportunity,” Fisher says. The United States has nowhere near the percentage of greenhouses as Europe. He also sees opportunities in Asia, particularly China, Japan and Korea. “They are huge markets with diets high in fruits and vegetables. The guys we work with in Japan on a joint venture have spent a lot of time researching technologies.”

Fisher takes pride in building his own business without making any equity investment. He’s had a lot of conversations with founders who have invested but in hindsight I wish they’d been in the business a little longer. He doesn’t rule out doing this in the future, but is keen to be taken as an example of why this isn’t always necessary.

Fisher’s long-term vision, and it should be: “Trying strawberries takes a year. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on it, it takes a year. So, time is a cost in my space, pretty much.”

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