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The World’s Largest Indoor Farm is 100 Times More Productive Than Other Farms

The World’s Largest Indoor Farm is 100 Times More Productive Than Other Farms


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A feat of agriculture has come out of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that shook Japan in 2011.

Can the future of agriculture be found in an abandoned Sony factory in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan? The world’s largest indoor farm (25,000-square-feet) makes a powerful case. You see, the army of LED-powered robots working on the farm have reportedly been able to produce100 times more food than traditional farming methods (or about 10,000 heads of lettuce per day), using 40 percent less power, all while reducing food waste to about 80 percent according to Web Urbanist. In other words: the same LED (light-emitting diode) technology we’ve been experimenting with to grow lettuce in outer space may make us more effective farmers right here on our own planet.

This incredibly efficient “plant factory” was created in 2011 as an emergency response to the devastation left in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami wake, according to National Geographic, and the technology had been in various stages of development for 40 to 50 years.

“We chose this particular location because we wanted to prove that vegetables can be produced anywhere,” said Shigeharu Shimamura, CEO of Mirai, the agricultural technology company that created the giant indoor farm in an earlier interview with National Geographic. “Looking into the future, if we could succeed there, we could also see a possibility of exporting the technology we developed all over the world.”

That future could be fast-approaching. According to Web Urbanist, Mirai is already working on a similar farm in Hong Kong, and is developing other innovative agricultural projects in Mongolia and Russia.


Vertical Farming Methodology And Adaptation: Hope Or Hype?

The population of the world is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, indicating a massive challenge of food for all. Vast plots of arable lands are lost due to rapid industrialization and urbanization. With a growing demand for food and shrinking arable lands, people are putting their hope on vertical farming. The question that comes up is vertical farming sustainable for the future?


Seventy times the yield of traditional farms

Marc Oshima, the chief marketing officer at AeroFarms, yanked open a tiny grey door in a back alley in downtown Newark that leads into an old nightclub with vividly painted walls. In 2014, AeroFarms converted the space into a research and development facility. “Out there, in nature, we don’t have control over sunlight, rainfall,” Oshima said, “here, we are giving plants what they need to thrive.”

The moist sanitized air that envelops the R&D lab is missing one ingredient: the earthiness that permeates any agricultural operation.

At the repurposed sites, AeroFarms is pushing the limits of what David Rosenberg, the company’s CEO, calls “precision agriculture”. The scheme ditches the romanticized ideal of farming, acres and acres of open fields dotted with men and women toiling in the sun, getting their hands dirty, in favor of enclosed urban spaces where engineers, electricians and harvesters mill about, wearing protective clothing, masks, and gloves.

With its multicolored LED lights, computer screens lining the walls, and faithful preservation of club decor, AeroFarms’ research facility could easily pass off as a sci-fi themed club. It makes a befitting setting for a company that is promising to increase crop yields by as much as 70 times compared to traditional field farms, without using any pesticides or fertilizers.

The fine print is that the productivity is calculated using square footage occupied and not the vertical space utilized, making comparisons with ground floor-only traditional farms fraught. And critics point out that no traditional farm that size comes with a price tag of over $30m.

The leafy greens nurtured under multicolored LED lights. Photograph: Malavika Vyawahare

Much of the funding is coming from impact investing arms of big-ticket investors like Goldman Sachs and Prudential Financial. AeroFarms has leveraged its social impact goals to attract investments, promising to create jobs in a languishing economy and supplying fresh local produce to the community in Newark.

For New Jersey, where unemployment rates have been persistently above the national average, the promise of new jobs and fresh investment has ensured buy-in from the state. Christie, visiting the smaller aeroponics facility in March lavished praise on the “public-private” partnership.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority provided nearly $9m in incentives, stretched over 10 years, which includes a $2.2m grant under the Economic Redevelopment and Growth program and $6.5m in tax credits.

AeroFarms currently employs close to 100 people, and is promising more jobs in the months to come as the company grows. Like other companies in this space, it is relying on productivity gains to offset high cost of expensive technology and emerge as a successful business.

But even growing success isn’t a sure thing, let alone profit margins.


Eric’s Top 3 SPAC Targets – Vertical Farming

SPACInsider contributor Eric Weidemann this week compiled his three favorite potential SPAC targets among vertical farming ventures. We look at why they are compelling and why each could be a fit for a blank-check merger.

Agriculture has been a major target for disruption as technological adoption has lagged in the sector despite rising food demand and it is also low-key major contributor to pollution. The EPA estimates agriculture is responsible for 10% of the US’ greenhouse gas emissions, and that only counts the cultivation itself.

The massive logistics chain needed to transport and distribute agricultural products from farms to processors and urban markets is also a portion of transportation’s 29% share of emissions. And so, disrupting agriculture has many two-birds-with-one-stone benefits.

The market has also appreciated SPAC deals that have targeted this domain. Indoor farming technology company AppHarvest (NASDAQ:APPH) is currently trading down from its peak of $38.21 after completing its combination with Novus Capital in January. But, closing Thursday at $17.57, it is clearly still marked as a successful transaction.

Spring Valley (NASDAQ:SV) added another agtech deal to the 2021 roster in March, announcing a $856 million combination with vertical farming venture AeroFarms. The advantage of both of these targets is that they have leveraged technology to make highly dense and efficient farms that use little to no topsoil and far less water – both resources expected to be in shorter and shorter supply.

On a planet where a variety of factors is causing further loss of available arable land, both AppHarvest and AeroFarms represent attempts to do more with less. But, they actually represent two opposing schools of thought between greenhousing in the case of AppHarvest, to vertical farming in the case of AeroFarms.

Greenhouses use natural light and therefore are generally more energy efficient than vertical farms, which rely on constant LED lighting facing each section of plants. However, vertical farms provide much denser production per square inch and, after winter heating costs are factored in, can approach greenhouse-level energy efficiency. This is particularly true with ever-improving LED technology.

But the big advantage vertical farms hold over greenhouses – even very technologically advanced ones – is their ability to be built anywhere, including in urban environments. This means their go-to-market is not only cheaper, but more efficient as they can set up shop in a warehouse within a mile of dozens of urban grocers.

Bowery Farming

Like AeroFarms, Bowery Farming was founded in New Jersey, and has been growing like Jack’s magic beanstalk.

In March, Bowery announced that it had expanded its produce distribution to 800 stores in six mid-Atlantic states and had seen nearly 700% sales growth since January 2020. It considers itself the largest vertical farming company in the US and its sales of leafy greens and herbs have also quadrupled on e-commerce platforms like Amazon.

Bowery farms are more than 100 times more productive than a comparable square foot of traditional farmland and this efficiency is beefed up by the company’s internally developed operating system. BoweryOS uses sensors, machine learning and automation to monitor and constantly intervene to provide ideal conditions for each plant.

Although the company has not raised outside capital since 2019, it has brought in $172.5 million to date. And, buoyed by its recent growth, the company announced in September it had assembled the sort of infusion of executive talent from listed majors that indicates it sees public listing in its future.

Among those hired was former chief supply chain officer for Walgreens Boots (NASDAQ:WBA) Colin Nelson who will serve in the same role for Bowery. The company also hired Chief Revenue Officer Carmela Cugini, who had previously served as general manager of Walmart (NYSE:WMT)’s US e-commerce team and Chief Commercial Officer Katie Seawell who formerly served as SVP of product and marketing at Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX).

Plenty

While Bowery puts vertically-farmed greens on Albertsons (NYSE:ACI) shelves on the East Coast, San Francisco-based Plenty is providing the same to 430 Albertsons locations in California.

Plenty is going big in the nation’s biggest state. It is currently building a 95,000-square-foot warehouse farm in Compton, California that will host 365 harvests per year. The pandemic pushed back its plans, but this massive facility is expected to deliver its first crops in early 2022.

Its designs differ somewhat from Bowery, as its vertical set-ups are, well, more vertical. Leafy greens and berry plants on Plenty farms grow horizontally out from the sides of tall plank-like surfaces that run straight up and down. It claims this design uses 99% less land and 95% less water than traditional crops.

Although it was founded just one year before Bowery, it has raised significantly more outside capital, taking in $541 million through six funding rounds. Its $140 million Series D in October was led by Softbank, which has had a number of portfolio companies hit the public markets through SPACs. Driscoll’s, which produces about a third of the US’s berries, also participated in the round as strategic investor.

No SPAC currently searching has singled out agriculture as its primary area of focus, but Novus listed with a focus on high tech targets with innovations in 5G, AI, cloud computing or machine learning before announcing with AppHarvest.

Vertical farming companies like Plenty do rely on AI and other tools for their farms to operate, so the sphere is likely to not only attract attention from SPACs with obvious green thumbs. That said, two SPACs have filed to IPO with an explicit focus on agriculture and agtech – Gladstone Acquisition Corp. and Alexandria Agtech/Climate Innovation Acquisition Crop. These two aim to raise $100 million and $250 million, respectively at their forthcoming IPOs.

Kalera

Kalera (OL:KAL) is an Oslo-listed vertical-farming venture that has been on the market for funds to fuel its US expansion.

In October, it launched a $100 million private placement to fund an aggressive rollout and has already been putting pins in the map. Kalera operates two vertical farms in Orlando, Florida and one in Atlanta with new farms under construction in Houston, Denver, Seattle, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Columbus, Ohio.

With this expanding footprint, Kalera is one of the fastest growing vertical farmers in the world. These new farm projects will give it a projected yield of tens of millions of heads of lettuce per year or the equivalent of over 1,000 acres of traditional farmland.

For decades, investment and research has poured into genetically modifying crops to become more resilient against pests, disease and weather conditions. In vertical farming environments, all of these factors are eliminated or controlled.

As such, Kalera in February acquired seed breeder Vindara to internally move in a direction towards creating plants that don’t need pest-control tradeoffs, but are simply productive and flavorful in controlled environments.

SPACs sometimes shy away from targets that are already listed as such deals present lower potential upside if the target was already rationally priced by the market. But, an uplist from Oslo to a US exchange would open up significantly larger public funding opportunities that could bring value in of itself. Based on Kalera’s Oslo pricing, it has a market cap of about $672 million.


Can Indoor Farming Solve Our Agriculture Problems?

An interview with Bowery CEO and co-founder Irving Fain.

Food is central to our lives – that’s a given – but our relationship with it is problematic: agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change. With the world’s population growing rapidly in the next few decades, the global demand for food is expected to increase by 70%. However, the production of this food is costly: meat and dairy have the highest global carbon footprint and agriculture uses 70% of the world’s freshwater, to name just a few problematic aspects. This coupled with a higher demand and pressure from the effects of climate change creates a vicious cycle. How do we break it?

Photos courtesy of Bowery Farming

Bowery Farming believes it has a solution. The company’s high tech, indoor farms use a hydroponic system, requiring 95% less water than traditional agriculture to grow produce. Additionally, vertical farming requires less space, meaning that Bowery is 100 times more productive than a traditional farm on the same amount of land. Because the farms are indoors, in closely controlled environments, there is also no need for pesticides. These are just a few of the ways that Bowery is rethinking contemporary agriculture systems.

We wanted to know more, so we reached out to Bowery CEO and co-founder, Irving Fain, to discuss his vision for today’s farming practices and the role that technology can play in improving our relationship to food.

Bowery CEO and Co-Founder Irving Fain. Image: Michael Baca

What was your inspiration and mission for founding Bowery?

I’m a big believer in technology’s ability to solve difficult problems. After building my last company, I wanted to spend my time working on an area that I was personally passionate about and a set of problems that were broadly important. Agriculture sits at the epicenter of so many global issues today. Over 70% of our global water supply goes to agriculture, we use over 700 million pounds of pesticides each year in the US alone, and industrial farming practices have caused a loss of over 30% of the arable farmland in the last 40 years. At the same time, our global population is growing to 9-10 billion people by 2050 and we will need 70% more food in order to feed a population of that size, meaning that more food will need to be produced in the next 30 years than has been produced in the last 10,000. After becoming obsessed with the question of how to provide fresh food more efficiently and sustainably to urban environments, I teamed up with my co-founders David Golden and Brian Falther to build Bowery. Bowery combines the benefits of the best local farms with advances made possible by technology in large-scale commercial indoor farms to grow produce consumers can feel good about eating.

What sets Bowery apart from traditional farming?

While traditional farming methods waste resources and endanger our future food supply, indoor farming allows us to grow more efficiently and with fewer resources. Bowery farms use zero pesticides, 95% less water, and are 100x times more productive on the same footprint of land than traditional agriculture. We’re also able to grow a wide variety of crops twice as fast, more crop cycles per year, and more yield per crop cycles than the field, regardless of weather or seasonality. BoweryOS, our proprietary software system, uses vision systems, automation technology, and machine learning to monitor plants and all the variables that drive their growth 24/7, while combining software and automation with industrial process management to optimize production, fulfillment and distribution. By applying proprietary machine learning algorithms to millions of points of data collected by an extensive network of sensors and cameras, BoweryOS can make automatic adjustments to environmental conditions to improve crop quality, health, yield, and flavor.

Since we’re able to provide consistent conditions for crops (many which are tough to grow outdoors, especially with changing global climates), there are truly endless possibilities to what we can grow at Bowery. And because we’re close to the point of consumption and don’t have to worry about growing crops to withstand long travel distances or shelf life, we can grow more flavorful, less commodified crops.

Additionally, because we grow in a completely closed environment, we drastically minimize the risk of contamination from foodborne illness. Unlike outdoor farms, which are vulnerable to contamination from animal waste, tainted groundwater or irrigation run-off, Bowery produce is grown in a closed-loop indoor system that recirculates filtered municipal water free of contamination. And because we control the entire process from seed to store, our greens aren’t matriculated through large distribution and fulfillment centers that often lead to additional exposure to contaminants.

Technology and agriculture aren’t often thought of together. Do you see them as natural counterparts?

Agriculture and technology are historically deeply intertwined. While many people think of technology as purely digital, agriculture is actually one of the first major human technological breakthroughs, and is the basis for the creation of towns, cities and civilizations. Over the years, there has been constant innovation in agriculture, and it’s supported the growth of human populations through today. So tech and agriculture have always had a close relationship.

Today, agriculture is at the epicenter of many of our global challenges. At Bowery, we began with the fundamental conviction that technology is critical to developing both a scalable and sustainable solution to those global issues.

What kind of produce do you grow?

Our proprietary technology BoweryOS allows us to grow a dynamic portfolio of different crops on a smaller footprint of land. We currently offer 9 SKUs at retail partners, including spring blend, kale mix, baby kale, arugula, butterhead lettuce, romaine, bok choy, sweet & spicy mix, and basil. Beyond that, we’ve experimented with over 100 varieties. Right now we’re focused on delivering the best leafy greens and herbs possible to our retail and restaurant partners, but we’ve already started experimenting beyond leafy greens with root vegetables such as turnips, and plan to expand our offerings in the future.

How did you finance the company – which VCs or companies invested?

With Bowery, we were fortunate to have a number of world-class investors excited about Bowery’s mission, the technology we’re creating, the team we’re building and most importantly, the food we are growing. When we built our first farm, we were fortunate to work with Rob Hayes and First Round Capital who led our seed round, along with a number of other fantastic investors. To date, we’ve raised $122.5M from leading investors such as Google Ventures, General Catalyst, and GGV. Bowery has also welcomed noteworthy thought-leaders in the culinary industry as investors, including Chef Tom Colicchio, Chef José Andrés, Chef Carla Hall, David Barber, co-owner of Blue Hill, and the founders of sweetgreen, among others.

Where are you currently located? Plans for expansion?

We currently have two farms located in Kearny, New Jersey. This past December, we announced our Series B funding round of $95 million and we plan to use the capital to scale our operation in new cities across the country and expand our network of farms in 2019.

As CleanTechnica has already covered, Bowery has announced plans to use a microgrid that will run in part off of solar power to support an indoor farm year round. Can you talk a little bit about the benefits and challenges of using the microgrid and when this project will be underway?

We are working to incorporate a proprietary hybrid microgrid system that uses distributed energy resources, including a rooftop solar array, a natural gas generator equipped with advanced emissions control technologies and lithium-ion battery energy storage system. These solutions will help cover a meaningful amount of our energy consumption needs for this farm and will set us up with the knowledge and experience to install significantly more sustainable solutions in future farms. We will continue to meaningfully increase this percentage over time as we innovate on our electrical energy distribution efficiency.

What are the costs of urban farming like in comparison with traditional produce?

The existing food supply chain has a lot of inefficiencies. Because we’re located near the point of consumption, we cut out much of the waste and cost in distribution while delivering a fresher, better product. At the same time, the technology we’ve developed allows us to grow in a way that is 100x times more productive than traditional farming on the same footprint of land, which enables us to keep the cost of our produce competitive with organic products grown in the field.

Do you foresee urban farming as the solution to issues caused by growing populations, climate change and increasingly limited resources?

Yes, we view urban farming as one of the solutions to issues caused by growing populations, climate change, and increasingly limited resources including food and water supply as well as environmental degradation.

For one, there simply is not enough arable land in the world to feed the growing population using today’s conventional methods, and fresh produce loses 45% of its nutritional value when shipped. At Bowery, we solve for this by reappropriating previously unusable industrial space to grow crops indoors, closer to the point of consumption, at a rate that is 100x more productive per square foot of land than that of traditional agriculture. Produce is also typically grown in one central area, shipped to cold storage, then driven via long-haul across the country, and finally transported by last mile shippers to stores. In the U.S. alone, food trucking is responsible for 12.5% of total emissions. By locating close to the point of consumption, we drastically minimize the carbon footprint of food distribution. Additionally, while the agriculture industry uses 70% of the world’s freshwater and over 700 million pounds of pesticides in the U.S. alone, we use 95% less water than traditional farming and absolutely no pesticides.

What are your goals for Bowery in the next few years?

Our goal is to open more farms in new cities to give people access to fresher, safer, more sustainable produce. And, from a macro level, in order to provide food for a growing population, we need to feed the world with more than just lettuce and herbs. Getting these right is an important first step, but in order to keep up with current customer demand, we’re working on growing more types of produce as we build more farms, with an eye toward greater access for more people. There’s a huge opportunity to deliver a vast variety of fresh, delicious produce to people around the world with Bowery’s technology.


Bowery Farming unveils research and breeding hub, Farm X

NEW YORK, May 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Bowery Farming, the largest vertical farming company in the United States, today announced the opening of Farm X, its newest state-of-the-art innovation hub for plant science in Kearny, N.J., adjacent to Bowery’s original R&D Center of Excellence and first commercial farm.

Farm X is one of the largest and most sophisticated vertical farming R&D facilities in the world, and will further accelerate the commercialization of products specifically designed for Bowery’s indoor system.

From the cultivation of strawberries, root vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and beyond, to the discovery of the next generation of wildly flavorful leafy greens, Farm X expands Bowery’s R&D capacity by nearly 300%.

“We’re proud to be the largest vertical farming company in the United States that is consistently and reliably delivering our customers a wide variety of high quality, flavorful produce that’s local, safe and sustainable,” said Irving Fain, founder and CEO of Bowery Farming.

“From day one, our R&D team has been working tirelessly to unlock the next frontier in agriculture, and Farm X enables us to expedite the discovery of new vibrant crops and pioneering technological advancements that will further accelerate our momentum as the category leader.”

Bowery’s world-class team of plant breeders, plant physiologists, biochemists, and more, are constantly innovating from seed-to-shelf. At Farm X, they will be able to test more, faster—ultimately accelerating the discovery of new crops, growing recipes, and efficiency improvements that can be replicated at scale across the company’s network of commercial farms.

Featuring proprietary, highly-customizable, modular growing environments managed and monitored by new technology developed in-house, Farm X will further unlock the next phase of Bowery’s growth.

Farm X also features a sensory lab where Bowery will continue its quest for the perfect cultivars for indoor growing, as well as launch the first-ever on-site breeding program at a vertical farming company.

Under the new breeding program, Bowery’s team will be able to develop varieties that thrive in its unique growing conditions, and evaluate each one for optimal taste, quality and yield, rather than to survive outdoors, pest-resistance and long-haul transportation. While a traditional breeding program takes up to ten years, Bowery’s controlled indoor environment and 24/7 monitoring of crops will enable the company to bring new groundbreaking products to market at scale in a fraction of the time.

Bowery’s R&D team works year-round to uncover flavor-packed produce and bring new and exciting culinary experiences to consumers. Beyond the cultivation of new fruits and vegetables at Farm X, they are also developing the next generation of greens.

The Farmer’s Selection category, which launched in January 2021, emerged as a way to let consumers in on the process, bringing the thrill of discovering a new ingredient at your local farm stand to the grocery store. Bowery is launching a new small-batch green every four months under this new category.

The first greens released, Bowery Mustard Frills — hearty mustard greens with a tingly start and a fiery, wasabi-style finish — was available through April 2021. Green Sorrel, bright, tart baby greens with a zing and the next release in the series, is now available from May through August 2021.

Farm X also serves as an experimental space for innovation in farm design, data science, computer vision, autonomous robotics, hardware and software that can be deployed in Bowery’s growing network of commercial farms.

As Bowery continues to advance the integration of proprietary smart farming technology, it recently announced Injong Rhee (formerly VP at Google and CTO of Samsung Mobile) as its Chief Technology Officer. Rhee will ensure that every farm continues to benefit from the collective intelligence of the BoweryOS, the company’s proprietary operating system which integrates software, hardware, sensors, computer vision systems, machine learning models and robotics to orchestrate and automate the entirety of operations.

Rhee’s team is ensuring the advanced technological learnings discovered at Farm X will be seamlessly integrated and applied at scale across Bowery’s network.

Bowery has experienced more than 750% brick-and-mortar sales growth, and more than quadrupled sales with e-commerce partners, including Amazon, since early 2020. Bowery’s newest commercial farm in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, will bring local, pesticide-free produce, harvested year-round at peak freshness, to a surrounding population of 50 million people within a 200-mile radius, and will be its largest and most technologically-advanced commercial farm yet, further automating the growing process from seed to store.

About Bowery Farming
Bowery Farming, the Modern Farming Company, was founded in 2015 with the belief that technology and human ingenuity can grow better food for a better future. Propelled by its proprietary software system, the BoweryOS, Bowery builds smart indoor vertical farms that deliver a wide variety of Protected Produce — in little time, near cities they serve, for a truly local approach.

Bowery’s farms are growing the next generation of vibrant and flavorful produce. With BoweryOS, farms are 100 times more productive on the same footprint of land than traditional agriculture, and grow traceable pesticide-free produce with a fraction of the water and land.

The largest vertical farming company in the U.S., Bowery’s produce is available in more than 850 grocery stores and via e-commerce platforms serving the Tri-state and Mid-Atlantic region, including Amazon Fresh, Giant Food, Walmart, Weis, Whole Foods Market, Albertsons Companies and specialty grocers.

Based in New York City, Bowery has raised more than $172.5 million from leading investors, including Temasek and GV (formerly Google Ventures), General Catalyst, GGV Capital, First Round Capital, Henry Kravis, Jeff Wilke, and Dara Khosrowshahi, as well as some of the foremost thought leaders in food, including Tom Colicchio, José Andres, and David Barber of Blue Hill.


Tesla runs the island of Ta’u on solar power

Glyphosate was Originally Patented to Clean Pipes, Like Drano – 1964

Glyphosate is the presumed active ingredient of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller and other commercial glyphosate-based herbicide formulations. s. However, it was first patented in 1964 by Stauffer Chemical Company in Westport, Connecticut as a chelator, for removing unwanted mineral deposits from metal pipes like Drano.

Monsanto Discovers Weed-killing Properties – 1974

A few years later, glyphosate was also found to be an effective herbicide by Monsanto’s John E. Franz and brought to market by the St. Louis-based company in 1974 as a non-selective, water-soluble herbicide with a specific mechanism of action: the directed interruption of plant development through metabolic poisoning.

Today, generic glyphosate formulations are produced by at least 100 manufacturers and can be found in more than 750 products worldwide, with Monsanto still dominating the market with more than $4.75 billion in sales in 2015 alone

Glyphosate also binds (chelates) vital nutrients such as iron, manganese, zinc, and boron in the soil, preventing plants from taking them up. This could have serious implications for humans, farm animals and pets that consume genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops, as it could negatively affect the nutritional value of food.





Where Else Has Glyphosate Been Found?

Glyphosate Residues Found in Food, Urine, Breast Milk, Rainwater, Rivers, Tap Water and Tampons – But the FDA Has Never Conducted Proper Widespread Testing


Sky Greens

Among the first commercial indoor farms in the world, on the famously densely-populated city-state of Singapore, Sky Greens sowed its first seeds in 2012 and now produces up to 10 tons of leafy veg every day &mdash a lifeline for an island with a chronic scarcity of green space.

The same (recycled) water that irrigates the plants is used to power a hydraulic system, like giant water wheels carrying trays of Chinese cabbage, lettuce, and spinach up and over 30-foot high A-frames. They&rsquore planted, unusually, in soil rather than hydroponics to improve the flavor, and turn evenly through the sunlight as they go, hardly any LEDs required, adding up to an almost zero-carbon system.

Interior view of Spread, a large vertical farm in Kyoto, Japan


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"The world's largest indoor farm in Japan is 100 times more productive per square foot, than a traditional farm.

"It uses 40 per cent less power, and generates 80 per cent less food waste and uses 99 per cent less water."

Australia has an abundance of natural sunlight, and sources in the indoor vegetable industry say the LED investment is not widely used as there is not yet a return on investment.

Singularity University is hosting its first global solutions programs in Australasia.

Ahead of the conference, Ms Colbin told Australian farm and food entrepreneurs that cheap technology like LED was one of the major disruptors of agriculture.

Supplied: Impossible Foods

She said synthetic protein was another.

"The really intense thing for the agriculture sector is not that we can have a hamburger that a vegan can eat, it's that we will have a hamburger that a meat eater will eat and will love.

"We have Impossible Foods out of California making burgers that sizzle, ooze blood, they char, they are delicious and have a tiny fraction of the carbon emissions so if you have to deal with an emissions trading scheme that's important.

"Synthetic burger meat also use a fraction of the water.

"We have also bio-engineered milk, it's the same thing as milk but hasn't been through a cow.

"We have bio-engineered eggs where this one company in the US [is] marketing not to vegans but to industrial caterers who buy eggs by the thousands of kilos.

"What they care about is ɽoes it come in powder, liquid or tube form, and will it brown nicely around the edges, have the right taste, last longer on the shelf, salmonella free and is it cheaper'."


COMPANIES FOCUS ON VERTICAL FARMING

It’s a very new business sector, so this list is subject to change:

1. AEROFARMS

This company has won many plaudits for its operation and uses its own patented “aeroponic technology… to take indoor vertical farming to a new level of precision and productivity with minimal environmental impact and virtually zero risks”.

The company has raised at least $138 million in funding since launch in 2004, according to CrunchBase. Some of its backers are quite impressive, as this article in Ag Funder News reports.

The term “aeroponic farming” refers to the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or any earth-like material, which is known as “geoponics.”

Aeroponic systems enable the production of plants using 95 percent less water, which is what AeroFarms says it does.

2. GP SOLUTIONS

GP Solutions developed “GrowPods” – finely tuned, automated, transportable and scalable micro-farms that have been shown to grow all types of crops, including cannabis, at a faster rate than conventional means of agriculture.

GrowPods allow cultivation to take place year-round, which maximizes ROI. The systems are sealed from outside pathogens, contaminants, pesticides, and chemicals, and produce clean and robust crops.

The company has licensed its technology to Micro Lab Farms for the cannabis market only. The Pods from Micro Lab Farms differ slightly from the regular GrowPods from GP Solutions in that they have been specifically tuned for the production of cannabis.

Micro Lab Farms recently announced the development of a cannabis complex in Southern California that will hold many of the aforementioned GrowPods – some of which are being made available to farmers, businesses, and entrepreneurs looking to quickly enter the California cannabis market (the largest in the world).

GP Solutions also has a line of remarkable new proprietary soil mixtures, which contain no animal products. This is critical because many other soils and additives can contain harmful pathogens and contaminants that can cause crops to become tainted or fail rigorous testing.

The company is traded on the OTC stock exchange (ticker: GWPD) and is growing at a rapid pace (pardon the pun).

3. PLENTY

Like the other big vertical farming companies on this list, Plenty is another one that retails its produce, which includes kale and other greens, as well as some exotic herbs.

Plenty is probably the biggest company in terms of the amount of money it has raised in funding – approximately $226 million, according to CrunchBase.

4. BOWERY FARMING

You’d think any farming startup of any kind would steer clear of everything that’s genetically modified, but the fact that Bowery makes a point of saying it uses “zero pesticides and non-GMO” seeds might suggest that some vertical farming companies don’t have the same ideas.

Having raised more than $140 million in investment since inception in 2015, Bowery has carefully developed a distribution network in the US. Its leafy greens are available to buy in Whole Foods Market and Foragers. It also supplies a number of restaurants and sells online.

It doesn’t look like Bowery supplies its platform to other companies, even though some might be interested in its claims, such as: 95 percent less water usage than traditional agriculture 100 times more productive on the same amount of land and from harvest to shelf “within a few days”.

5. BRIGHTFARMS

Another of the big-money startups, BrightFarms has so far raised more than $112 million since its establishment in 2010, according to CrunchBase.

But unlike some of the other big companies, it isn’t into aeroponics as much. It seems more interested in hydroponics, which refers to growing plants with water, or, to be more accurate, mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.

6. GOTHAM GREENS

This company is one of many which have started up in the New York area. Strange to say it about such a new sector, but the market for vertical farming produce may be saturated – in that city at least.

Gotham Greens has so fair raised at least $45 million since its launch in 2011. It has four production-scale facilities, in New York City and in Chicago, and plans for more in several other states.

And, like BrightFarms, it’s more of a proponent for the hydroponic growing method, although it may well eventually mix it all up and try different approaches in different facilities.

7. IRON OX

This company appears to use robotics perhaps more than the others, in the picking process at least, and claims to operate fully autonomous indoor farmings. It too is a proponent of hydroponics, and is a retail-oriented company.

Its products are similar to the others’ – leafy greens such as lettuce and kale or things like that. It’s one of the newer startups on the list so a lot might change.

Iron Ox has only recently started supplying its products to local markets in California. The company has so far raised over $6 million in funding, according to CrunchBase.