Mark Korzilius, &ever

Can vertical farms be profitable?

Mark Korzilius is the founder and chief strategy officer of &ever, a vertical farming startup based in Germany, with its first mega-farm located in the desert of Kuwait. Korzilius was also the co-founder in 2002 of a chain of fast-casual Italian restaurants, Vapiano, with more than 200 locations in about 30 countries. He reached out to us, as founders sometimes do after reading a story that didn’t include them, to tell us about all of the cool things their company is doing. In the case of Korzilius, he also wanted to set the record straight on all of the things that competitors like AeroFarms and other indoor vertical farming companies aren’t doing despite claims to the contrary.

Obviously, Mr. Korzilius is biased, but he also confirmed a chief suspicion: Many indoor farming companies claim they are on a mission to help feed the world, which seems incongruous with the fact that most are growing leafy greens, herbs, berries, and maybe tomatoes. Hardly the sorts of staples that are going to keep the estimated 800 million people in the world from going hungry at the end of the day. He also argues that claims of automation using artificial intelligence and sensor-rich environments are also overblown.

“We truly believe to become farmers and to be successful farmers for some crops, we can prove that [vertical farming] is, in the end, a way forward,” he says. “Hopefully, we can find some technologies to really overcome some issues that have been created by others … that will help solve problems that have been the result of technologies that have been created 50 years ago.”

In the second half of that comment, Korzilius is obviously referring to the modern industrial farming system, with its reliance on pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that deplete and poison soils and water supplies. That’s why you see so many companies developing natural fertilizers using microbes or biomanufacturing solutions for non-chemical pesticides. Outdoor agriculture is also water-intensive, especially for products like almonds, which require one gallon of water per nut. Various technologies are in development to use water more efficiently, from soil sensors to aerial imagery from drones and satellites. Vertical farming gets at the root of the problem by moving the growing operation indoors, employing LED lights and hydroponics to deliver nutrients using only water rather than soil. That eliminates both pesticides and many traditional fertilizers and reportedly cuts down on water usage by as much as 95%. 

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