Jones Food Company Brings "Most Advanced" Vertical Farm to the Forest of Dean

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
28th February 2024

James Lloyd-Jones is the man behind the world’s most advanced vertical farm right here in the Forest of Dean at Lydney. 

In an exclusive interview with Ian Mean, Business West Gloucestershire Director and a board director of the Forest Economic Partnership, James talked about his vision for growing crops vertically and his plans to expand. 

The Jones Food Company has developed the £23.5 million vertical farming plant on the Old Forge works site at Lydney where previously engine camshafts were produced. 

Lydney is James’s second vertical farming plant - his first in Scunthorpe opened in 2018. 

This is an amazing story of success. I have interviewed many business people in my time as an editor, and here is a man with great drive, vision, and ideas. 

And I felt somewhat gobsmacked by the development of the company and its plant here in the Forest, as I did when we learned of the launch of The Deep last year on the site of the former diving centre at the Dayhouse Quarry at Tidenham near Chepstow. 

Innovation seems to be the word that links these two projects. They are both great for our local economy and increasing the awareness of the Forest of Dean nationally. 

James Lloyd-Jones, founder and chief executive of the Jones Food Company, is a remarkable success story. 

He left school at 17 and set up a mobile climbing wall business, then bought some cheap property in the Scarborough area before going to America - "I stayed for three weeks but I couldn’t take it”, he says. 

James wanted to be an RAF pilot “because I thought that was a good way of getting girlfriends but I was kicked out because my eyesight was not very good”. 

At 20 years old, he was working in Park Lane for the upmarket estate agents Foxtons, and later started a wind and solar company before going into property in Bristol. 

What gave him the idea of vertical farming? 

“I probably saw it on Tomorrow’s World”, says James. ”I had seven ideas on the back of my notebook—this was no 2 and no 1 was an online art gallery.” 

He then went to Japan to do the research into vertical farming, put the money together and opened up his first site in Scunthorpe in 2018. 

How did he get that first investment? 

“I moved back to my parents in Yorkshire and ran up and down to London on the train—my friend who ran the trains in Hull was a supporter and he got me complimentary tickets.” 

That initial investment for Scunthorpe was £4.9 million from Guinness Asset Management, and 15 months later Ocado came in as backers. 

Ocado and a private German individual have been the recent big backers - “They are the rocket fuel that has given us the big spend in what you see today in Lydney.” 

After looking at the motorway network and the price of land, he decided on Lydney. 

“We could hit a lot of our customers from here in under a three hour period and this building came up at the right price within the budget”, said James. 

This Lydney plant is amazing - like nothing else I have ever seen. 

It has the largest growth room in the world with 44 kilometres of lights that help to grow the plants and heat the plant at the right temperature. 

Everything is massive. 

There are eight growing aisles - 75 metres long and 10 metres high - with millions of plants growing at any one time with one tray having up to 4,000 seeds on it. 

ASDA were their first retail customer taking herbs and baby leaves. They backed James and his team from day one at Lydney which he describes as “a great leap of faith - they are a fantastic partner”. 

He tells me: “Our journey has not been easy but our customers know this is needed. How can we secure our own food supply in the UK?" 

“As we go forward and this technology gets more honed, we can export the technology to the countries where that export has a higher value.” 

At their research and development site in Bristol, the company is now looking at growing strawberries and cut flowers. 

And at the Scunthorpe plant they have been growing 7 million trees a year. 

Lydney is focused on food with a retail and wholesale focus on herbs, watercress and salad leaves with up to two tons a day being harvested. 

“Our belief is that if you built 94 vertical farms the size of Lydney you could displace all need for importing herbs and salads”. 

This is an amazing business which is already attracting interest from partners in the Middle East and the company has a commitment to build up to 9 more plants in the UK. 

James Lloyd-Jones is now looking for another £150 million in investment just to do that. 

An amazing guy with amazing vision for our food supply and food security for the future. 

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