Growing Vertically

Nate Storey, the founder of a startup of what has come to be called AgTech, or technology applied to agriculture, is convinced that the future of vegetable crops is vertical and indoors, something that will allow harvesting anywhere in the world and supply markets locally. His company, Plenty, just got the practical demonstration that about two acres (about 8,100 square meters) vertically and hydroponically grown produces more than a nearly 720-acre conventional farm.

The company, which intensively uses robots and algorithms for the dosage of nutrients in vegetables and fruits, closed last October a financing round of 140 million dollars that raises the total obtained up to $ 500 million, reflecting the growing investor interest in this type of technology. Other companies also in the San Francisco area, such as Iron Ox Robotic Farms, also use robotics for all kinds of processes, from planting to nutrient dosing or harvesting, and obtain similar yields.

The high density of cultivation and the control that can be exercised over production, which drastically reduces the incidence of pests and diseases, together with the reduction of transport costs (such a crop can be grown anywhere) leads to a recalculation the business economies drastically, whose fundamental costs become specialized labour (which is why robotization is involved), the amortization of the initial installation, and energy, increasingly cheap and efficient thanks to the development of solar energy and LED technology for lighting.

Another company founded three years ago, the Finnish iFarm, raised the first round of four million dollars last August. The company provides technology to some fifty projects in Europe and the Middle East with a total of 11,000 square meters of exploitation and is able to automate the care of around 120 varieties of plants, with the goal of reaching 500 by 2025 (states that they add ten new crop varieties every month).

Others, like rising Gardens, which raised $ 2.6 million in seed capital at the end of May, are focused on offering hardware and software kits for hydroponics at home, which assemble in 45 minutes and come in three different sizes, at IKEA style, which also has a similar product offering. Others, such as Germany’s Infarm, offer facilities of this type to businesses such as shops and restaurants and have also been well received by investors.

And there are many more: Eden Green, Bowery Farming, BrightFarms, Freight Farms, AeroFarms … a scene moved both in a number of companies and in investment, which seems to presage an increasing orientation towards this type of crops. A completely different model from that of conventional farms (which, however, are also undergoing a strong technological transition ), which can be installed in any industrial warehouse anywhere or even in a container (or in space), and that promises a transformation similar to that which we already obtained at the time with crops under plastic. Will the vegetables that we will consume in the future come from this type of farm?

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