SKY HIGH Consortium Agreement

SKY HIGH: Vertical Farming, a revolution in plant production

Generating Urban Food Systems Solutions

Program Contract

Dr. John Reich

Dr. Leo Marcelis

Wageningen University

Year Awarded   2021

FFAR award amount   $1,061,576

Total award amount   $6,630,342

Location   Wageningen, The Netherlands

Matching Funders   Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, Bayer, Bosman Van Zaal, Certhon, Dutch Research Council (NWO), Fresh Forward, Grodan, GrowX, Own Greens, Signify, Solynta, Unilever, Van Bergen Kolpa Architects

  • Urban Food Systems

For vertical farming, the sky is the limit

With climate change, urbanization and other threats endangering farmland across the globe, innovations that grow food in cities and other limited spaces are vital to food security. Vertical farming, which grows crops in stacked layers, is a promising option that allows farmers to grow crops in nontraditional spaces, such as vacant warehouses.

Vertical farming provides greater control of climate and nutrition conditions than outdoor or greenhouse facilities. Yet, because of limited funding opportunities there are few researchers adapting crops to make them economical and sustainable in these production systems.

Our Precision Indoor Plants (PIP) consortium is funding SKY HIGH: Vertical Farming, a revolution in plant production to explore favorable conditions for crop nutrients, taste, appearance and shelf life in order to optimize vertical farms. The researchers are also focusing on how crops can be developed to thrive in indoor environments, including how to accelerate the development of crop varieties.

Why this research is important

Crops grown in vertical farming environments have various advantages over those produced through conventional farming:

Growers benefit:

  • Gain new methods to accelerate the development of crop varieties
  • Learn protocols for growing plants in indoor systems
  • Produce greater amounts of crops while taking up less land

Environment benefits:

  • Reduced food waste
  • Reduced use of most resources to produce certain crops
  • Reduced net loss of resources due to low quality produce

Consumers benefit:

  • Access to high-quality, nutritious produce
  • Longer lettuce shelf-life and less leaf discoloration
  • Shorter supply chain

Details About this Research

SKY HIGH’s research focus includes strawberries, potatoes, lettuce and basil. Ultimately, this research is developing crops that respond well to indoor environments and designing vertical farms with favorable conditions for their growth.


  • Determine how light, temperature, water and nutrient supply affect targeted plants’ physiological mechanisms and metabolic pathways regulating taste, aroma, appearance and postharvest performance.
  • Optimize vertical farming growing conditions and characterize the genetic requirements to breed plants with higher nutritional value than conventional farming.
  • Develop a predictive model of the performance of lettuce genotypes in additional environments.
  • Analyze how the structure of lettuce affects the distribution of nutrients like calcium to gain a better understanding of how tip burn, the browning of leaf edges, develops.
  • Explore speed breeding lettuce varieties to fast-track growth.
  • Identify ways to use different light schedules to promote desired traits in lettuce, such as increased yield.

How This Research Contributes to Our Mission

We connect funders, researchers and farmers through public-private partnerships to support audacious research addressing the biggest food and agriculture challenges. The SKY HIGH program is a collaboration of 18 organizations that are conducting research to make vertical agriculture cheaper, more nutritious and energy efficient.

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