Some Top Indoor Farms Boosting Production

Last week, Reuters writer Jane Lanhee Lee reported that, ” Leafy salad greens grown under banks of LED lights, with mist or drips of water are having their day in the sun. Several top U.S. indoor farms, stacked with plants from floor to ceiling, tell Reuters they are boosting production to a level where they can now supply hundreds of grocery stores.

“Plenty, Bowery, Aerofarms and 80 Acres Farms are among young companies that see a future in salad greens and other produce grown in what are called vertical farms that rely on robotics and artificial intelligence, along with LED lights. While the first versions of modern vertical farms sprouted about a decade ago, in recent years the introduction of automation and the tracking of data to regulate light and water has allowed them to get out of lab mode and into stores. Now they are trying to scale up.

“Plenty and others say their customized, controlled lighting – some more blue light here, some more red light there – makes for tastier plants compared to sun-grown leaves and that they use 95% less water than conventional farms, require very little land, and use no pesticides, making them competitive with organic farms. And because vertical farms exist in windowless buildings that can be located in the heart of urban areas, produce does not have to travel far by fossil-fuel-guzzling trucks to reach stores.”

The Reuters article noted that, “But whether the sunless farms can compete financially with their field-grown brethren, given big upfront investments and electric bills, remains a question.”

“Plenty’s salads sell on organic grocery delivery site Good Eggs for 99 cents an ounce, while a leading brand, Organic Girl, on grocery chain Safeway’s online site was priced at 80 cents an ounce,” the article said; but added that, “In its last round in 2017 Plenty raised about $200 million from investors including Japan’s Softbank, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and former Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt. New York City-based Bowery raised $95 million in a fund-raising round led by Google Ventures and Temasek last year.”

The article noted that, “Former Vertical Farm CEO Matt Matros is skeptical that sunless farms can make economic sense. He invested in and ran Chicago-based FarmedHere in 2015, but changed its business into food processing.

“‘The issue with indoor farming was that you could really only grow a couple things efficiently — namely basil and micro greens. But the problem is the world just doesn’t need that much basil and micro greens,’ Matros said.”

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