Last month the Indoor Agtech Innovation Summit was held in New York City. It featured the technologies and businesses associated with “Controlled Environment Agriculture,” or CEA which includes everything from greenhouses that still utilize sunlight to “vertical farms” that are completely independent of the outdoor environment. The CEA sector has drawn a great deal of investment driven by several factors: climate change impacts on outdoor farming, growing interest in regional food autonomy, and the ability to deliver an extremely fresh product to consumers.
Netled is a company based in Finland which has developed an automated vertical farming system suitable for large scale and focused on energy efficiency. It is branded as Vera technology. Its motto is “high tech, deep roots, green goes vertical.” The system is marketed to commercial growers including a first North American installation in Calgary, Canada. Units start at 100 square meters, but the full economy of scale is realized at around 2000. A Swedish producer called Oh My Greens has a 2,400 square meter Netled growing system, and larger units are possible depending on the customer’s needs and business case.
Freight Farms is an example of indoor vertical farming but on a scale designed for operation by small business owners supplying local markets. The company is based in Boston and has 50-60 employees. Their stated goal is to “democratize the food supply,” and their motto is “Move Farms, Not Food.” Their design is based on standard shipping containers made of stainless steel which they buy from Chinese manufacturers with some specific design features to accommodate their growing architecture and control system. These units enable turn-key operation by their “farmer” customers who are offered a two-day “farm camp” in order to learn how to operate the unit. There is also online support once they are up and running. Inside the container there is a nursery station and four 26’x7.3’ walls to give the container 13,000 total “growing sites”.
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