And Sundrop Farms, one of the greenhouse farming, has builded a 20 hectare self-sustaining greenhouse facility in South Australia, raised a whopping $100 million from private equity giant KKR.
Vertical farmers and software startups to lighting specialists, greenhouse producers and university researchers revealed that there are some clear challenges ahead too. Here are three of challenges for indoor farming.
1. A lot of the technology involved is still very early stage
A lot of the technologies being used in indoor farms and others, for the example of LED lighting, which is poised to dramatically impact the industry by providing optimum light spectra for plant growth.
The large amounts of energy that LED, controlled environment agriculture co-director at Cornell University, revealed research pointing to a much higher carbon footprint for indoor ag, in both greenhouses and vertical farms, than outdoor farming, including the transportation costs and use of chemicals.
2. Availability of funding
While the examples above of AeroFarms and Sundrop Farms indicate that funding is available for indoor agriculture — and from big name investors at that — this is certainly not the whole picture.
As with many agriculture-related investments, finding funding can be hard, and this can in part be put down to the challenge investors have in placing certain investments within their portfolio. With companies ranging from those selling the technology bought or used by indoor farms, to physical production assets, the investor audience could vary significantly.
Limited funding also slows down the pace of the research for indoor farming happening at public institutions and universities, which in turn limits the availability of data and information for would-be growers of indoor farming. The need for more sharing and collaboration on data collection and research was a big theme of the event and discussions among delegates afterward.
3. Finding experts for indoor farming
Hiring of indoor farming experts is a challenge, ensuring the right people are running indoor ag businesses is also of utmost importance as the industry scales.
David Rosenberg, CEO at AeroFarms, described the highly technical and sophisticated systems used in his operation as a key factor in his hiring process. “It’s data science which gives us the ability to optimize our products, and customers have said they have never tasted product as good as ours. We have sensors everywhere and software and ERP systems operated by handhelds that can manage the farm and capture 20,000 data points. That’s why we have MIT [Massachussets Institute of Technology] people to crunch the data.”