Alan Quinn is a partner at QBM, a land and property business, working in partnership with John Smith of Scotplan to look for innovative ideas to create employment in rural communities by utilising greenbelt land and buildings to support recreational interests, such as equine sports.
Through his property development work, and in partnership with his planning consultant colleague, John Smith, Alan had been asked to advise on finding land on which to keep horses as the need currently outstrips availability. Typically, 1-1.5 acres of grass field is needed per horse for feed whereas only about 1/10th of this is required for exercise. Together, they identified the opportunity to acquire and use poorer land along with a DIY hydroponic system for horse owners to grow this grass indoors, providing feed for horses and other farm animals. This could be a particular advantage for horse owners in the periphery of urban areas where good grazing land is in short supply.
As the hydroponic system has not been used for this particular purpose before in Scotland, tests would need to be carried out to see if it would be viable in the Scottish climate and market.
Alan and John approached Interface looking for academic expertise to carry out research that would assist in providing supporting evidence for planning authorities, offering key credentials to gain approval for different types of planning. There is an interest in bringing derelict land back into use and hydroponics could help achieve this.
Interface introduced Alan and John to Dr David Lawson, from the Crop and Soil Systems Department at SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College).
Funded by a Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher, a report was commissioned to cover the environmental, financial, and practical elements involved in growing hydroponic grass in Scotland and the wider UK to support the desire of horse owners to grow high quality feed at an affordable and sustainable level. This system would help and encourage the use of poorer quality land to support horses and other animals, potentially opening up opportunities for an increase in horse ownership.
The research addressed a number of areas such as:
- The Scottish climate; understanding typical and range of conditions where the hydroponic system is viable
- Appropriate types of suitable grass that can be grown in a hydroponic environment
- Market demand for small stables or homes for horses
- Overall costs involved in developing a new system to produce enough feed from seed
- Financial viability compared to other available feeds
If the research was successful and demonstrated the viability of growing hydroponic grasses for horse feed, then it would encourage more horse ownership and participation in equine sports (particularly in or near urban areas), as well as encouraging development on low quality land to build and run hydroponic barns. Both these factors would create more jobs and a new market for growing hydroponics in Scotland and beyond.
The company, QBM, would take all the required elements of creating a hydroponic system (grass types, suppliers, growing process, best practice, etc), including sourcing land and helping potential customers with the planning process, to create hundreds of local hydroponic growers throughout the country.
SRUC would gain insight into the technicalities and financial considerations of such hydroponic systems. It is probable that such knowledge would be transferable to other sites and situations where the intensive production of fodder grasses could be of interest.
The concept of hydroponically grown forage was of significant interest for small land holdings, but the research undertaken by SRUC indicated that the electricity costs for lighting were prohibitive for a financially viable system.
While the results were disappointing to the businesses, undertaking this collaborative project with SRUC at an early stage of their venture prevented them from wasting both time and money in reaching the same conclusion at a later date.
They are now looking at an alternative viable option.
QBM was delighted with the support from David Lawson of the Scottish Rural College and co-operation from Interface to engage in this innovative assessment.
The principle and capability of growing hydroponic crops is well established elsewhere in the world and QBM wanted to establish the commercial viability of growing low cost, high quality hydroponic feed in Scotland for the equine market. Unfortunately, at this time, the costs remain high but future enhancements in LED low cost lighting may allow horse owners the option of growing their own high-quality feed on-site. Alan Quinn, QBM
We found the Scottish Funding Council's Innovation Voucher programme very straightforward for carrying out an early stage study into a novel concept. The programme provides an extremely useful means of getting initial ideas off the ground.
It was a pleasure working with Alan and John of QBM and hopefully there may be some further opportunities to collaborate in the future. David Lawson, SRUC