Once, the UK was self sufficient when it came to food. Today, more than half comes from abroad, with just 23 per cent of fruit and vegetables grown here, according to research based on Government data.
As recent weeks have shown, that reliance on imports can create serious shortages, with supermarkets routinely running out of goods that most consumers consider staple fare.
But there are other factors to consider too. Fruit and vegetables taste best when they are freshly picked. When produce comes from abroad, it is invariably at least a week old and can sometimes be in storage for months, peppered with preservatives and tasting of little or nothing.
There are energy considerations as well. The further food has to travel, the greater its environmental impact. The entire food industry is responsible for about 20 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to scientists, with fruit and vegetable production accounting for a sizeable proportion of that total.
Light Science Technologies Holdings was founded expressly to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables the UK can grow locally, using advanced technology to improve yields, make food taste fresher and increase its nutritional value.
The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange’s junior AIM market this month. The shares are 12.45p and should increase substantially in value as this country and others focus on producing more food closer to home.
Chief executive Simon Deacon started his own lighting business at the tender age of 19. Initially based in a portable cabin, the firm amassed clients including Marks & Spencer and Next, and left Deacon, 48, with a lifelong interest in lighting and electrical equipment.
In 2016, he acquired Manchester-based manufacturing firm, UK Circuits and Electronics Solutions. The business makes circuit boards, delivered £7million of turnover last year and has a strong order book, with customers including Rentokil Initial, top car makers and supermarkets. In 2019, the business was tasked with creating lights for an indoor farm. The project was so successful that it spawned a new firm, Light Science Technologies.
Today, Light Science Technologies Holdings encompasses both the established circuit board business and the recently formed farming technology division.
Deacon, who lives on a working farm, is passionate about increasing the amount of food that the UK can grow locally. Recognising that plants react differently to every environment, he and his team have created more than 40 variations of lighting kit, individually tailored to growers’ needs and used in glasshouses and polytunnels, as well as indoor (or vertical) farms.
Successful harvests from these structures do not just depend on lighting, however, so Light Science has developed sensors to monitor pretty much everything that plants need to thrive, from oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity to the gentle breezes that foster growth at certain stages.
These sensors relay data in real time back to the Light Science laboratory. Technicians can then advise clients to increase or reduce nutrients and other products throughout the day – and even at night.
The technology has a dramatic effect on yields, allowing farmers to grow fruit and vegetables under cover all year round, rather than just in the summer.
This translates into more locally grown produce and much better income for farmers, many of whom are forced to import fruit and veg at a loss in winter, so they can fulfil supermarket contracts.
Energy and water consumption is reduced too while, crucially, the food tastes better when it is fresher. The equipment even allows growers to reduce or dispense with artificial pesticides and fertilisers, so enthusiasts believe that produce grown under cover can be considered as ‘natural’ and organic as top, field-based fare. Deacon is working on contracts that should deliver turnover of more than £40million in the next few years and interested parties include Ocado-backed Jones Food Company, which recently started building Europe’s largest vertical farm, just outside Bristol.
Huge glasshouses and polytunnels are far less appealing to the eye than rolling fields but, with Light Science’s innovative kit, they can have a dramatic effect on how much fresh produce we can grow throughout the year, from salad leaves and strawberries to cucumbers and unusual varieties of carrot.
Vertical farms add to the mix and they can be erected on industrial estates, retail parks and even in city centres.
Midas verdict: Light Science Technology Holdings combines a robust, revenue-generating circuits business with an exciting new division, that operates in a fast-growing market and can help to solve some of the UK’s knottiest food production issues. As a relatively young firm, the outlook is not risk-free but, for investors keen to support entrepreneurial UK businesses, the shares, at 12.45p, are a buy.
Ticker: LST Traded on: AIM Contact: lightsciencetechnologiesholdings.com or01332410601