According to Allison Kopf, CEO of Artemis, there are five ways big players will enter indoor agriculture. "The indoor agriculture (both greenhouse and vertical farming) market is one of the fastest-growing industries. Big companies in agriculture and technology are trying to figure out ways to capitalize on the rapid growth of the industry."
"Artemis is one of the leading software infrastructure companies in the industry, which allows us to have a front-row view of how the industry is growing and what the industry needs", Allison says. "Our market has historically been fragmented, where legacy companies have been growing for decades and new players have emerged more recently with innovative models to stake their ground as market leaders. Most of the growers are trying to displace traditional field-grown commodities and increase domestic (i.e. in their local country) production of fresh produce; and we’re seeing this shift, as well."
Allison says that in the 1990s in the United States, the number of tomatoes consumed grown in greenhouses was negligible. Now, only 20 years later, close to 40% are grown indoors. This shift isn’t just happening with tomatoes, it’s happening with crops best suited for indoor growth, such as lettuce, herbs, cucumbers, peppers, and increasingly berries.
"In this industry, unlike more traditional commodity markets, we have no dominant suppliers (inputs, chemicals, finance, technology) yet. Bigger companies have largely left the market open for smaller specialized companies and startups. But this is about to change. The indoor market has shown it’s a lasting and major component of our agricultural supply chain and someone will enter this market with a goal of winning. So, who will it be?"
"I believe the winner will own one or more of the areas below," says Allison.
Companies who understand grower workflow, farm financials, operational data, and biological data will have a distinct advantage in the battle for the market. This creates an opportunity for folks like lighting, breeding, climate control, greenhouse manufacturers, lenders, and others.
According to Allison this isn’t just about getting closer to the farmer, it’s also an opportunity to develop technologies faster and to have commercial R&D capacity at your fingertips. "Lighting, for example, is one of the most impactful components for growing indoors. Yet, lighting companies have no access to yield information or quality information from the growers."
With access to on-farm information, lighting can become proactive and intelligent, rather than the PLC technology of the past. Signify and Osram are already leaders in horticultural lighting and are likely in a strong position to start offering intelligent lighting solutions. "Watch out for breeding companies here too. Unfold recently launched with $30m in funding from Bayer to breed indoor crops. I would expect others like Syngenta and Rijk Zwaan to follow with similar initiatives," Allison affirms.
There is an estimated $20 billion gap in project finance over the next 3-5 years for greenhouse and vertical farm construction in the United States alone. Agricultural companies who have lending capabilities, like ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Dreyfus, and others will find indoor agriculture opportunities less risky from a growing standpoint than traditional commodity investments. Lenders will need to get comfortable with the relationship-heavy buying market and the lack of offtake contracts in produce but should be able to underwrite with growers who sell to known retailers, like Costco, Walmart, and Target.
"Many growers also have a need for an operating line of credit, often needing to buy in bulk for consumables like seeds, growing media, and chemicals to obtain better pricing. With some buyers, growers face long receivables periods, which also hurt operating cash flow," says Allison.
Ultimately, legacy agriculture companies who lend to agricultural producers will win by creating financial products for the indoor agricultural space and by partnering with the technology producers who can help de-risk the investment. This opportunity will open up billions of dollars in new revenue for someone on a relatively short timeframe.
Product recalls and supply chain blind spots hurt everyone in the ecosystem. Bigger agricultural companies have started adding traceability to their strategic plans. Many are testing out blockchain-based technologies. Allison says that others are focused on digital workflow platforms. For the most part, companies haven’t yet figured out how to stretch all the way back to the farmer and this is where the most opportunity lies with indoor agriculture, in particular.
Because indoor agriculture is more predictable, companies who can track product from input to crop to finished good and all the way through the supply chain will have a critical advantage over others. Retailers like Walmart and Target are making this a priority and have the potential to disrupt their supply chains dramatically with indoor agriculture.
"Let’s say Walmart partnered with indoor producers for 100% of their salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and berries. While implementing this, they set traceability standards for producers and required compliance with those standards. This would not just ensure safe products that are normally high-risk for consumers, it would also enable stable year-round supply of products (with accurate forecasting) for Walmart and would lay the groundwork to move the needle dramatically on sustainability. This means less food waste, more efficient production, stable year-round products, safer, and more sustainable production," says Allison.
It’s not just retailers who can set the bar when it comes to traceability. Large technology companies like Schneider Electric who have their technology in the hands of all the components of the supply chain, from grower to retailer, are also in a unique position to offer end-to-end traceability products.
Consumables are another exciting opportunity for more traditional players entering the indoor agriculture market. Today, growers buy products from many individual suppliers. This drives the price up and makes reliability difficult. If one supplier is out of a product, growers are forced to buy new untested products or find another supplier on short notice.
Large greenhouse growers are often importing products from other countries and buying in bulk just to try to reduce price. And there’s a severe lack of transparency for both pricing and performance. Because the industry is moving so quickly, growers are left to buy based more on marketing claims than on actual performance.
Allison adds: "Indoor growers spend a lot of money on inputs each year and are willing to do so because quality has a direct impact on pricing. This is a drastically different approach from traditional commodity markets where yield is the prime, if not only, driver for financial performance. Because of this, growers tend to pay a premium for inputs to impact not just yield but quality as well."
Farmer’s Business Network has created a marketplace to solve for exactly this type of challenge in the inputs space. This market is ripe for an offering like this. Large chemical companies like OCP and ICL should also be paying attention to this market as specialty products will likely emerge as one of the largest product categories over the next few years.
Companies like Trimble, John Deere, Syngenta, and Corteva have started making inroads in digital workflow products. None of the products designed for workflow in the field cover the workflow of indoor agricultures.
"In indoor agriculture, you need to couple the traditional cultivation processes and biology of growing with a manufacturing mindset. In indoor agriculture, the growth times are dramatically shorter than in field, so the challenges are more aligned with a factory. You’re thinking about how to manage space, time, and throughput on a continuous basis. It’s just-in-time inventory management," Allison states.
Understanding this workflow is critical to all of the other items listed above. This is what drives proper data collection, ensures traceability, and enables models like financing or a consumables marketplace. Companies who have a deep understanding of inventory management, like NetSuite, Sage, SAP, and Microsoft might do well capitalizing on this new industry. Other agricultural companies who also work in the construction and manufacturing space, like Trimble, might also win here.