Although some of us might prefer to leave 2021 behind, we're looking back one last time. Here are the best-read articles of 2020. Did you read them yet?
Our list contains only articles that were published in 2021, not articles that were clicked on in 2021. We've seen some specific trends in the past year: high-valuable crops coming into the market, such as strawberries, mushrooms and other niche products. As well as some big investments that have been coming into the market. Infarm received $200 million in funding, 80 Acres followed with $160 million, whereas IGS Limited welcomed its first funding round of £42.2 million.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. Read for more? Here we go.
1. US: "We're betting billions on the wrong farms"
"If you follow the AgTech space, you'll be familiar with the press releases at this point. Huge vertical farm. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding," wrote Rob Laing, CEO and founder at Farm.One in a LinkedIn post.
Rob found it weird that with all this investment in 'innovative agriculture', nothing seems to feel very new or even add up. The experience of buying leafy greens at the grocery store looks pretty much the same as it did in 1999. None of the large vertical farming companies claims to have a single profitable facility. Recycling basically doesn't happen. No one speaks up about energy use when we're facing a climate emergency.
2. Who will win in indoor agriculture?
According to there are five ways big players will enter indoor agriculture. "The indoor agriculture 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. I believe the winner will own one or more of the areas below," says Allison Kopf, (former CEO of Artemis) current CMO of IUNU.
They are doing so through data, finance, traceability, consumables and digital workflow.
3. Kenya: Introducing urban farming solutions to provide income and healthy produce
“Life is tough here, and there wasn’t much healthy food available, says Charles Lukania, Project Coordinator at Voices4Change in Kenya. “When Erik Lundgren from Ljusgårda came to visit in 2019, he provided farming materials so we could start the first hydroponics demo site in the informal community of Korogocho in Nairobi.”
It all started in 2016 when Maria Zachs founded the Swedish organization Voices4Change, V4C. The organization started operating in the areas amplifying young people’s voices for social and economic inclusion. Since hydroponics was completely new to the area, the V4C team started with a small-scale household model farm made up of two Ebb and Flow hydroponics tables. Crops produced were spinach and pak choi. The Swedish company Ljusgårda became the main investor enabling the project to grow.
4. Making strawberry production more profitable by implementing automation
“High costs are the biggest problem in vertical farms,” says Hannah Brown, CCO & Co-Founder of Organifarms. “We’ve been looking at energy use to partially solve the issue, but we didn’t see a got fit for us to lower anything in that area. Then we started tackling another big expenditure, labor. We’re lowering costs for labor-intensive crops such as strawberries as it's barely impossible to grow them profitably in a vertical farm now.”
Organifarms develops automation technology for indoor farming systems, which also includes greenhouses. Their main product is the harvesting station, which automates complex farm processes like harvesting and quality control. The reason why they chose to focus on automation for strawberry production is that they saw great interest in the industry.
5. When will vertical farming become profitable?
“By now, after all the investments, the biology works, the technology works, but the financials need to work as well for vertical farming to become truly sustainable,” said Tom Debusschere, CEO at Urban Crop Solutions.
He introduced the topic of profitability during a session at the CEA 4.0 event. According to Tom, there are four drivers for a successful vertical farm. Firstly, the indoor biology know-how. This is where the technology is built on. Third, sales and marketing skills in ‘fast-moving consumer goods’. Lastly, the skills to run a lean and well plant factory 24/7.
6. Calculating the electricity use of vertical farms
Vertical farming is rapidly developing worldwide and depending on the country or location, there may be different reasons for this development. A lot of the information comes from commercial sources or from scientific research.
“However, in the end, a lot of more applied knowledge and practical experience helps to give a realistic picture of vertical farming and the vertical farming business case,” says Jasper den Besten, Senior lecturer at HAS.
“Therefore, organizations and individuals look for sources providing this type of knowledge and experience and end up at Universities of Applied Sciences like InHolland and HAS, for instance, in one of the most experienced high-tech horticulture countries in the world.”
Jasper explains that vertical farming is still quite new, and it will therefore take a while before it obtains a decent place in university curricula. Moreover, the offer of high-quality courses for staff and management are difficult to find.
7. Industry outsiders enter the indoor agriculture space
A blog post by Contain Ag wrote about the developments in the CEA space. "As the indoor agriculture industry continues to grow, we’re beginning to see more and more well-known industry outsiders enter the market. But why are these companies venturing into this unknown terrain?"
In addition to rapid growth potential, the CEA industry offers companies an opportunity to apply their expertise in support of a climate-resilient and financially sustainable food system. To better understand the motives of these companies, Contain has spoken with its vendor Schneider Electric about their entrance into the space and the factors that led them to do so.
Schneider Electric is a company that provides energy and automation digital solutions for efficiency and sustainability with a global reach that spans more than 100 countries. When asked what Schneider “does,” employees often say it’s better to ask what it doesn’t do.
8. Building resilient indoor farms with earthworms, fungi and beneficial bacteria
“I’d like to see the indoor farming industry include the ecosystem of waste and develop robust, biodiverse systems,” says Ketil Stoknes, a biologist and ecologist from the University of Oslo specializing in the integration of waste into controlled environment agriculture.
During his TEDx presentation published online in June 2021, Ketil posits that the indoor farming industry would benefit from exploiting the potential benefits of biodiversity in indoor farms. The conventional indoor farming model places a strong emphasis on maintaining a sterile environment to prevent outbreaks of pests and diseases. But as Ketil explains, total sterility in indoor environments is impossible, as is demonstrated by the development of biofilms on hydroponic equipment.
By integrating biodiversity into the indoor farming environment through organic substrates, digestate-based fertilizer and the introduction of beneficial organisms, Ketil explains that indoor farms can achieve a higher resilience to the unavoidable presence of pathogens.
9. Bringing small-scale vertical farming to Uganda
“Having lived in the city, I could see that people were struggling to find food. But in villages, there is a lot of food available. Since I had experience in agriculture, I decided to bring these skills to the cities,” says Paul Matovu, founder and CEO of Vertical and Micro Gardening (VMG).
Vertical and Micro Gardening is a Ugandan-grown social enterprise that was officially incorporated in 2017, which designs, manufactures and distributes vertical farms. The company’s flagship product is the Vertical Farm 1.0, a wooden modular system with a 9-square foot footprint that accommodates up to 200 plants. The Vertical Farm 1.0 also has a vermicomposting chamber that transforms organic waste into nutrient-rich organic amendments.
As Paul illustrates, vertical farming in Uganda looks quite different from vertical farming in metropolitan Asia, Europe, and North America. The systems provided by VMG are relatively small and soil-based. Aside from the vertical farming systems, VMG also offers agronomic advice, seedlings, organic soil, earthworms for the vermicomposting system, etc.
10. Sweden: Instead of supplying microgreens, supplying self-made cultivation systems
“When looking for fresh herbs in the supermarket during the winter, I noticed they were imported from Kenya, so on my way home I decided I should try to start growing them myself at home,” says Michael Skaret, founder and CEO at Nordamark.
Michael started out growing microgreens for colleagues and friends, for a hobby, but soon he started to take it to another level. Nordamark, a vertical farming company based in Sweden, moved into a bigger growing facility to meet the growing product demand. After trying to find suitable commercial growing systems for larger production, he realized that many didn’t meet the requirements.
This resulted in Michael trying out some things by himself. After developing a functional prototype within a year, the new system was ready to be used in the facility. Michael says that it worked very well after a few months of testing and refining the processes.
We can't wait to see what awaits us in 2022. Feel free to reach out whenever you'd like to share any news with us.