Vertical farming: hope or hype?

Vertical farming has become a hot topic during the coronavirus pandemic, as supply chain disruptions and labour shortages feed perennial fears over global food security. The nascent sector, in which crops are grown in stacked indoor systems under artificial light and without soil, has enjoyed a flurry of activity this year.

Headline-grabbing developments have included the construction of Europe’s largest vertical farm, plans to build the world’s biggest indoor farm in the Abu Dhabi desert, and a $140m fundraising round by a SoftBank-backed start-up Plenty. Norway’s Kalera this week announced a $100m private placement ahead of its listing on the Oslo Stock Exchange’s Merkur Market on October 28.

Proponents believe that the technology represents the future of agriculture, hailing huge efficiency and environmental gains for the food industry, and about $1.8bn has flowed into the sector since 2014, according to data group Dealroom. However, agritech entrepreneurs and analysts warn that hype and lofty promises could undermine the sector’s credibility, putting off consumers and investors.

“There is a lot of BS coming from entrepreneurs,” said David Farquhar, chief executive of Scotland-based technology provider Intelligent Growth Solutions. “There are far too many unsubstantiated claims about energy use, the environmental benefits and quality of crops.”

Read more at Financial Times (Emiko Terazono)



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