"I think the investors will be back in about a year after the industry has assessed thoroughly why some of the main players went Chapter 11. Some farms simply invested too fast and too much into robotized technology and automation, and consequently, they needed engineers and scientists, often earning 6 figures. At the end of the day, most of these facilities are growing leafy greens and not manufacturing electric cars, and they need a business model that must be in line with the lettuce price tag on the shelves," says Jérôme Doucet, President of Montel, a Canadian vertical farming supplier.
"Indoor farming will need to get closer to traditional farming and stop thinking that you only need to push a button to grow food crops. I think that Montel is really the right fit after these disruptions have gone by as we currently provide solutions that are more affordable versus fully automated solutions requiring expensive machinery and salaries."
Kevin Biernacki and Jérôme Doucet with Montel
Montel will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary next year. Historically, Montel has always been involved in large institutional projects like museums, libraries, universities, sports, and industrial storage. Having installed projects in over 74 countries, Montel allowed itself to build a strong network of distributors in North America.
Finding that unique recipe
Ever since dipping its toes in the vertical farming market by creating mobile vertical growing racks for a cannabis producer in Nevada, Montel was, and still is, contributing to finding each grower's unique recipe. "However, with the recent multiple bankruptcies, I think we'll be seeing more standardization, almost identical cultivation methods, and smaller and similar grow operations as the indoor farming industry must become profitable. Each facility was set up differently, and each grower had their unique recipe and way of growing, although this will change, in my opinion. The business model will become similar from farm to farm since it's all about being sustainable and profitable in the end.
After the recent vertical farming hype cycle, we went through, I prefer our game as a manufacturer, given the numerous suppliers there are on the market in the LED lighting industry or commoditized static pallet racking, for example. With our solutions, we address both horizontal and vertical growth with our space-saving mobile grow racks. If you save space, you consequently cut costs related to square footage. There is no need to build such large facilities with mobile vertical farming systems as opposed to static vertical farming systems where every aisle wastes space. Every cubic foot is expensive, and every dollar spent will now count more than ever in the vertical farming field."
Presuming that many investors got FOMO for not being involved in the scene. There has been such a big hype around vertical farming, and that balloon seems to have been popped this year. Without a doubt, Jérôme believes that the industry will get over it. He sees more private and public partnerships to be closed in the future. As well as incentives and rebates from electricity plants that will help boost the industry.
A DIY package, but now it's put together for you
With its strong network of partners that supports it in delivering the complete growing envelope to clients, Montel supplies turnkey solutions to growers who aspire to start their own vertical farms. Currently, their offering consists of their signature product: mobile vertical racks, rolling carts, patent-pending irrigation trays that allow for smart draining, and their 'regular vertical racks.'
Provided with a built-in rack ventilation system, every tier ensures proper airflow when it comes to the plants. Connected to the main HVAC, there is very little chance of microclimates to maintain a main temperature and ensure crop consistency at every level. The grower can be really hands-on with its crops, knowing what's going on.
Thus far, Montel's customers have been using mobile vertical racking systems to grow leafy greens, microgreens, baby greens, herbs, and soon berries and mushrooms. "We're not targeting taller crops like tomatoes at this point because, from a price point perspective, it doesn't make sense. Therefore, we're targeting the smaller fruits, mushrooms, leafy greens, baby greens, and herbs as the numbers for these crops do add up in our mobile vertical systems."
Adjusting the shelves per inch, growers can truly do with the system as they desire. "We can go from three to twenty-six feet high (8m). We have filled large warehouses with our mobile growing rack systems from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Considering the overall number of linear footage of mobile vertical shelves and racks installed since our first installation in 2015, we've become really the pioneer and leader in our field over the years," Jérôme affirms.
A render of a larger-scale vertical farm
Canada needs vertical farming
According to Jérôme, vertical farming is not yet emerging in our country as it should, but funny enough, everyone depends on it. We've been talking about CO2 reduction in Quebec here, as the farm-to-plate distance is outrageous. In the summer season, it's very warm and for a short period of time too. Then, in the winter, there's the other extreme of hazardous cold weather. Inflation and the cost of fuel have made imported goods sky-high from California, Mexico, and Central and South America, so many Canadians cannot even afford fresh produce. "We have to become way more autonomous and grow pesticide-free crops all year long regardless of weather. Our government-owned electricity provider, Hydro-Quebec, has to step to the plate and offer incentives and power rebates for indoor growers."
"If we truly want to eliminate CO2, then we should go mobile and vertical. There's a lot of lobbying to be done on a government level. They should step in and aid these entrepreneurs in any possible way they can because there's a lot of help lacking on those levels. We also need to see more public-private partnerships to support this industry, which must become profitable. The current wildfires in BC and Quebec are crazy, and there's a huge problem to solve just yet. It's a no-brainer that vertical farming is going to be big here next. It's truly a big wake-up call, and we should make this work all together. I hope that people are willing to share more insights between competitors and growers in order to cooperate. I think that's another great thing about what's happening now," Jérôme concludes.