Is Vertical Farming the Next Big Thing in Agriculture?

It’s Called Vertical Farming, And It Could Be The Future Of Agriculture
By Ronald Holden, Forbes Magazine

A 20-foot vertical farm inside a climate-controlled cylinder.
The concept sounds like science fiction: instead of spreading out across acres and acres, the farms of the future will grow lettuce and strawberries inside climate-controlled, light-controlled cylinders. Less land, less water, but year-round light and perfectly controlled moisture.

The California company behind this concept, Plenty, announced this week that it will open a 100,000 square-foot farm in Kent, Wash., south of Seattle, where it intends to grow pesticide-free, “backyard quality” produce for regional consumers. It’s the start-up’s first full-scale farm.

The plants (fruit, vegetables) grow in 20-foot tall towers inside a climate-controlled facility with LED lights without using pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, or GMOs. Instead, thousands of infrared cameras and sensors collect data that is analyzed to optimize how the plants grow.

“Plenty claims its technology can achieve yields of up to 350 times greater than traditional agriculture while using 1 percent of the water and barely any land compared to conventional methods,” according to a company press release.

This would sound like pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, except that Plenty has the eye of some savvy investors, including Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, who just spent $14 billion to take over Whole Foods.

Hydroponic farming already exists, albeit not on a large commercial scale.

“Research shows that hydroponic farming could well be the future of global agriculture, combining the benefits of local outdoor organic farming with the high yields of large-scale agricultural production,” the company believes.

Backers of Plenty’s $200 million round, in July, in addition to Bezos, included SoftBank (via its Vision Fund); Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt (through Innovation Endeavors); DCM Ventures; Data Collective; Finistere Ventures; and Louis Bacon.

In an interview with GeekWire, Plenty CEO and co-founder Matt Barnard said Seattle’s “relative lack of access to local produce” and the region’s emphasis on healthy food made it a perfect place to expand.

“As we looked at the West Coast, Seattle was the best example of a large community of people who really don’t have much access to any fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally,” he explained.

But Seattle’s extensive community of food lovers scoffed at the notion that the region does not have access to fresh, local produce.

“The Yakima Valley was known as America’s fruit basket,” one food writer complained and Puget Sound, the region surrounding Seattle, is one of the most fertile in the nation.

“I will personally organize a round table for the company with local farmers,” said Audra Gaines Mulken, a photographer who works extensively with local farms. Her most recent book is the Female Farmer Project.

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