The St. Louis region is positioned to become the global center for innovation in indoor soilless agriculture thanks to a cooperative effort from dozens of experts over the past two years. This work, which aims to realize the full potential of a burgeoning industry while benefiting the local community, is detailed in a new report released today from World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Markets Institute.
Indoor soilless farming has great potential to supplement the U.S. food system and help alleviate supply chain instability, food deserts, and the massive environmental impact of traditional farming. But to fulfill this potential and grow at an accelerated pace, the industry must address several challenges, including high energy footprints, affordability, and expansion beyond leafy greens. To that end, a St. Louis-based coalition of more than 70 professionals from varying industries has worked to establish a centralized base of knowledge and best practices and lay the groundwork for a new indoor farm where innovative ideas can be put to the test.
"These past few years, we're seeing in the U.S. just how fragile our current food system really is," said Julia Kurnik, director of innovation startups at WWF's Markets Institute. "We need new food solutions that don't put additional pressure on nature and climate, and indoor agriculture is one with enormous potential. We've dedicated a lot of effort into figuring out how to accelerate the indoor farming industry in a sustainable way, and it's so gratifying to see that research come to life in the St. Louis region."
The St. Louis region was identified as the ideal base for these endeavors in a 2020 WWF analysis due to its unrivaled relevant science expertise in plant science, agtech, and bioscience, along with strong potential partners, including universities, foundations, and grocery chains. There is plenty of unused or underutilized infrastructure and capital assets that could be repurposed for or integrated with indoor farms to lower the environmental impact of the facilities. There is also an opportunity to benefit local communities by producing healthy food year-round in urban settings while also creating job opportunities requiring little or no previous experience.
The new WWF report explains steps taken in the past two years to build up the indoor agriculture industry in the St. Louis area, including:
- An analysis of innovative energy systems utilizing various un- or under-utilized buildings, facilities, and other assets
- To address the energy footprint and associated impacts of indoor vertical farms, WWF studied novel solutions such as river cooling, underwater turbines, solar panels, food waste-to-energy systems, the use of underground locations like caves and abandoned mineshafts, and more.
- The formation of the St. Louis Controlled Environment Agriculture Coalition (STLCEA)
- This Coalition of more than 70 members includes both local stakeholders and national experts from a myriad of fields, including plant science, banking and finance, academia, farming, grocery chains, private industry, and more.
- Progress toward the creation of a Center of Excellence on indoor farming in the St. Louis region
- The Center of Excellence will have a dual focus on knowledge sharing and best practices for indoor agriculture, along with ensuring food equity and access. The Yield Lab Institute is leading the creation of the center, which will eventually be permanently located on the University of Missouri - St. Louis campus.