“The market is there for that. At this point, they are a little hesitant to try hydroponics, but the interest is there. It’s a niche market, which gives us the opportunity to grow first on a small scale and then grow into a larger company,” says Julien Lach, founder of ERRA, a French agtech based in Le Havre, France.
Trying to change perceptions towards hydroponics
Julien started as a gardener in 2017 when he grew organic vegetables in urban areas in France. “Many here are disconnected from nature and agriculture. They have no idea how we produce food. Once I realized I started ERRA in January 2020 to raise awareness of the benefits of hydroponics.
Today, the company supplies tower trusses in various structures to restaurants, schools and businesses. Julien will educate users on how to maintain the towers, the benefits of it, and also offers to manage the farm for them. Currently, Julien has several clients for whom he grows flowers, green vegetables and fruit crops such as strawberries. For now, ERRA wants to offer the service of growth, which means companies can relax and wait for their products.
Most of the farms provided by ERRA so far are growing outdoors and have proven to be successful. The best month to cultivate would be May-September explains Julien because of the Earth’s climate. Per turn, between 15 and 20 kg of crops can be harvested.
Julien sees many opportunities in front of him. Many questions are asked about how hydroponics can be healthier than produce grown in soil. Little by little, Julien finds that the people of Le Havre are becoming a little more lenient towards this type of agriculture as they see the harvests.
“We benefit from extensive local press coverage, which helps to promote our products. We are also part of a group that brings together several key players in cities, who are interested in our tower farms, which has been very successful so far,” notes Julien.
“After a year in the business, I hope to expand throughout the region and eventually the country.” As onlookers have seen the tower grow crops before their eyes, this is the best way to market the product and its potential. People are amazed to see the fresh produce grown in such towers.
The only problem ERRA faces is the high cost of nutrients. “At this point, electricity is cheaper than nutrients. In France, it is the focal point of the culture, because it has a huge influence on the taste of the product,” explains Julien.
Key aspects of sustainability
The main advantage that Julien likes to communicate to French society is the aspect of saving water, because it is already rare and will be even more so in a few years. In addition to saving space, since the tower farms allow you to grow 50 crops in only 1 m2 (10 square feet). When eliminating the seasonal aspect, the towers can be placed indoors and put into use via the plug-and-play function.
Not only is saving water essential, but so is land use. Many French people opt for organic, and this method of cultivation must be better communicated to emphasize that hydroponics is as healthy as organic, explains Julien. Additionally, he notes that “organiponics” is a method he would like to explore in the future.
When he meets new clients, Julien sets goals for them to achieve. Schools could introduce new teaching models by cultivating cultures themselves. Whereas restaurants would have direct access to fresh food and add aesthetics to their dining room. For businesses, all of the above applies.
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Julien Lach, founder