Ahead of the Indoor AgTech Innovation Summit in New York, Thomas Ambrosi, Co-Founder at ONO Exponential Farming, shares his thoughts on the growth of indoor farming and the exponential impact it will have in the near future.
I’m often asked, “What’s new about your invention?” My answer to this question is usually of a technical nature. Maybe this is because I’m not good at marketing, or maybe because, in my mind, my inventions haven’t resulted in something particularly spectacular. Over the years, I’ve always tried to solve problems, often very complex ones, with ideas that simplify complexity and provide solutions that are accessible to everyone. I would say that my skill is developing enabling technologies.
This is what also happened with the creation of ONO Exponential Farming in indoor agriculture. As a starting point, I took state of the art in Vertical Farming, an assortment of complex, wasteful, and costly technologies with problems of replicability, and came up with Exponential Farming, an enabling technology that allows anyone to grow anything, anywhere in the world in a streamlined, sustainable and profitable way. This technological approach makes it possible to solve problems connected with lack of resources and to increase sustainability and the well-being of the human race on the Planet. The agricultural exponentiality of ONO can be summed up in terms of modularity, scalability, accessibility, and applicability with a lean mindset. This is how we coined the term Lean Farming.
In the Lean Farming concept, ONOEX systems deliver the type and quantity of product needed, when needed, and very close to the demand: the product can be delivered “Just-In-Time” every day according to real consumer demand in ZERO WASTE mode. ONOEX systems are geared towards the flexible production of vegetables where it is not necessary to produce high volumes for a return on huge infrastructure investments with high operating costs such as those that can be seen everywhere today. The size of the investment is linked to the size of the market to be served and not to restrictions connected with cost sustainability. The real scalability of our technology solution allows the grower to grow the size of their farm once they have tested the market and validated the business model from a business perspective.
The basic self-sufficient module is only 30 square meters in ground occupancy size and can range in height from 4 meters to 16 meters. The modules can then be replicated “N” times and only reach the size of a “giga-farm” if the market to be served requires it. This scalability can be achieved over time without having to plan the final size at the beginning of the project.
In studying the critical factors widely present in indoor farming, we realized that a crucial factor in making this new way of agriculture accessible was the technical know-how needed to start production and the dimension of the workforce involved. Overcoming these limitations allows us to expand the practice of indoor farming to an audience of adopters that is difficult to reach with what is currently in the market.
Developing artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms using cultivation drawer handling has resulted in complete system autonomy. ONO’s full automation allows growers to remotely control all cultivation operations and to continuously generate new growing conditions for plants in terms of climate control and the right mix of nutrients based on each type of crop and its growth stage. The accessibility of the system makes it possible for anyone to launch a project of agricultural production without the need for prior knowledge in agronomy and biotechnology. We have gone far beyond programmed management of automated systems; we have made mathematics a key element of agriculture, rendering the number of feasible applications exponential.
ONOEX provides 100% of the production infrastructure, from planting to packaging the finished product. “We are redefining agriculture by constantly updating and improving our algorithms and AI. In this way, we can make farming operations more effective and efficient.” We believe that automation can play a decisive role in providing fresh produce for many different uses and making agriculture widely accessible. Automation can also overcome the limitation of a lack of labor in agriculture. As we experienced during the pandemic, it also has the advantage of limiting the access of pathogens or viruses into food production.
The ONO concept of vertical farming does not require Giga farms to make the investment sustainable. We are not thinking of necessarily building the world’s largest farm but a distributed network of farms that are connected and close to consumers. Because in this industry, collaboration is key to being sustainable. Technologies implemented include systems for reducing energy consumption for LEDs (-70%) and for air conditioning of growth chambers (-60%). We are currently testing a solution that will lead to total energy and emission cycle circularity.
Thanks to the design of the machines and the possibility of creating plants up to 16 meters high without human intervention, we are achieving three times the density of cultivation compared to the best-known vertical farms, a cost reduction of 73% per square meter cultivated, and a 95% reduction in labor costs compared to the most famous systems that have recently been in the news.
We have gone beyond classic leaf vegetables and have now become experts in the world of herbs. We can guarantee higher biomass and better quality even than seasonal products; we have been testing the continuous production of strawberries for months with excellent results in terms of organoleptic and nutritional quality. ONO Exponential Farming is redefining the concept of agriculture. We live in a world where water is an increasingly scarce and precious resource. Depleted and polluted land can no longer support the demands of a growing population. What we eat and use is critical to protecting our health. We cannot and will not stand by without acting. The crops to come out of our Farms are the result of innovative and collaborative production processes that positively impact the health of people and the world in which we live. This is not a dream; it has now become a reality.
To the question “What have you invented this time?” I can answer today: “…something that will help human beings to survive in the worlds of the future.”
For more information:
Indoor AgTech Innovation Summit