Israeli Firm Puts Lettuce on Top

“Lettuce has become like bread,” says Lior Hessel, CEO and a co-founder of OrganiTech, which is based in the northern town of Yokneam. “It has to be on the supermarket shelves 12 months a year.”

A robotics engineer by trade, Hessel and his brother, Ohad, began thinking about solutions for lettuce cultivation as they were working on the application of robotics to agronomy. Using the more classic definition of hydroponics, cultivating produce using water (instead of soil), they worked to find a solution that would involve water, less energy and fewer square meters of space.

The Hessels created indoor fields of crops, developed mechanized fields of Styrofoam beds of lettuce plugs that are rotated over recirculated, nutrient-filled water for a period of four to five weeks. The crop beds, which are 35 meters long and 2.5 meters wide, are housed in an environmentally controlled, 40-foot container that uses artificial light, or a greenhouse that uses natural sunlight.
Because all growth takes place indoors, the lettuce greens can be grown 12 months a year. Planting, harvesting and packaging are performed by intelligent robots, monitored by a computerized control center. “We basically supply the conditions of springtime, not summer, not winter, for 12 months a year,” explains Hessel.

The company is developing a series of growing machines for different kinds of produce, and currently sells GrowTech 2000, a standard 40-foot container that uses a specially developed fluorescent light and computers that monitor oxygen, light, carbon dioxide, humidity and temperature levels.
At around $180,000 for a greenhouse version, and nearly double that for a container using artificial light, the hydroponic platforms can produce from 150,000 to 400,000 heads of lettuce per year, but can be an expensive proposition, admits Hessel. Then again, the system can lead to a reduction of up to 80% of the costs for heating and labor, two of the most serious costs in the greenhouse industry, according to the company’s figures.

Tooling Up for Hydroponics

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