Strawberries available year-round that are fresher, cheaper, and even eco-friendlier – this is the promise of an indoor vertical farm.
Kiwi Arama Kukutai – the chief executive of Plenty – is about to open a large vertical farm. Using LED lights and robots, the US-based facility can grow a full lettuce in 10 days: "That's 15 to 20 times faster than the field," he said.
There's a risk indoor farms could exacerbate New Zealand's carbon output. Already, Kiwi greenhouses burn coal and natural gas to keep crops warm in winter.
Kukutai acknowledged that the farm's LED lights are energy-intensive. If their electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, vertical farming could increase greenhouse emissions. He hoped to pair Plenty's new facilities with renewable generation projects. "It's aligned with our mission… Renewable capacity is a priority."
One hectare of vertical farming can grow the food of between 200 and 300 hectares of traditional fields, he added. That means produce can be grown near cities, reducing food miles. "When you're close to the customer, you're not shipping product left, right, and center."
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