Is this the moment vertical farms take off?
The vertical farm has been the 'next big thing' in agriculture for at least a decade. The concept – high-density crops grown in indoor factories where light, irrigation and pests can all be controlled – is seductive. But, beyond small-scale producers using the tech for high-value salad leaves like mizuna, the concept has yet to deliver at scale. But Plenty might be about to change all that. Certainly, co-founder Nate Storey believes vertical farming has a vital role in increasing the global supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Photo from https://plenty.ag
So far, Plenty might sound like the latest in a long line of AgTech startups trumpeting the arrival of large-scale vertical farms. But the company is attracting serious investment. The company has raised USD400 million and can count Jeff Bezos and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt amongst its investors. And given that the company already has its first farm operating in San Francisco and another under construction in Compton, it demands a closer look.
In a Plenty farm, plants hang vertically from ceiling-mounted racks. Fully controllable LED lights illuminate them from all sides, robots move the racks when necessary and AI makes decisions about temperature, light and water to maximize yield. And Plenty claims that yield will be phenomenal - a 400x increase on traditional outdoor agriculture.
At the same time as exponentially increasing yield the company claim that they’ll achieve water savings of around 95%. In an interview with Forbes magazine Storey pointed out that outdoors, the vast majority of water is lost to evaporation and transpiration. In a Plenty farm, that water vapour can be captured and reused.
Once the fruit and vegetables are ready to eat, theycan sold to local people. Right now, that means residents of San Francisco. But in the next few years who knows?