What a year it's been for many as the vertical farming industry has been through rough times, but that didn't stop us from writing about persistent, innovative and market-savvy growers.
The following list includes the most-read articles published in 2023 by VerticalFarmDaily. Thanks for setting us up with an overload of content in the past year. Are you ready to see our Top 15? Here we go.
Dr. Avanish Goel and Dr. Archana Kamble
1. India: Due to high returns, saffron farmer breaks even after one year as profits keep doubling
“In a seller’s market, the difficulty of cultivating saffron at a large scale along with the high-profit margins, it’s a wonderful opportunity to grow this as a business. There is an exponential potential of doubling profits yearly with the least investment, with the first year as a maximum investment and a one-year break-even point,” says Avanish Goel, Founder of Indigold, an Indian agtech that grows saffron.
After the first investment, the seeds will multiply, and there will be no need to purchase seeds for the next ten years, as Avanish found out. “Hence, profits will start doubling every year from the second year onwards.”
Willem Jonkman pictured in the trial facility
2. "Twice as many tomatoes than a greenhouse at 40% less cost"
"Our ongoing results show that we can obtain almost 2 to 3 times more KG cocktail tomatoes per m2 than in a greenhouse. A well-skilled greenhouse grower yields about 40kg per m2, whereas we harvest 110 kg per m2. We can supply systems that allow controlled tomato cultivation in two to up to five layers," explains Willem Jonkman, Founder and CEO of Hortigold.
In 2020, Willem conducted a tomato trial using a growing method that is often not seen in vertical farms. A six-week trial was held to research all key assets needed for horizontal cultivation in vertical farms. The reason behind growing horizontally instead of vertically is to save space and increase yield and put the plant central.
3. India: “We’re setting up farms globally for a fraction of the costs”
"The extremely intensive capital, high operational energy costs, lack of automation, and the lack of variety suitable for hydroponics. We've solved all of these problems, building much cheaper, more efficient processes and crop diversity. We're able to build farms for one-tenth the costs of global competitors in the high-end market," says Vihari Kanukollu, co-founder of UrbanKisaan, an Indian vertical farm supplier.
Thanks to their experience in the field, UrbanKisaan can help find smart solutions for the lowest cost, or as Vihari says, 'street-smart solutions.' That's always been the core thesis of the company. Work as if there is very little money to spend, thinking from the farmer's perspective. Thus, how would you solve a problem as affordable and efficient as possible?
4. US (NY): Upward Farms ceases all vertical farming operations
Upward Farms ceases all vertical farming operations in the US, including the new to-be-constructed farm in Pennsylvania. Ever since the news got out last week on Upward Farms closing their vertical farming facility in Williamsburg, NY, plus laying off staff, it was unclear what would happen to their other premises. Now, the company has confirmed it will cease to operate all vertical farming facilities.
"We are closing our Greenpoint, Brooklyn Headquarters farm, which was the only production facility. We closed and moved from our first farm in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn after opening our much larger HQ in Greenpoint in 2021. We will not open our PA farm, which was under development," says CEO Jason Green.
5. The industry responds to AeroFarms' bankruptcy news
"We are always looking at where we can add value, whether that be through commercial production, genetic research, postharvest applications, etc. We are very excited about the idea of high-value nurseries to produce more crops to be planted by AeroFarms, other indoor growers, and even in the field," said Marc Oshima, Co-founder, and CMO at AeroFarms last summer to VerticalFarmDaily.com.
AeroFarms filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2023, seeking legal protection to restructure their finances and operations. So how could this have been prevented? Are microgreens too much of a niche and not for large-scale production? How could we avoid the growing pains of energy costs? Let's have a look at what the industry thinks.
6. Who says a cucumber needs to grow upwards?
"We are growing fruity vegetables indoors with yields roughly 8 times higher than anything on the market, such as 800 kg of cucumbers and 500 kg of tomatoes per square meter per year," claims Ilan Ofer, Chief strategy and marketing officer of Grow-Tec.
As Ilan explains, Grow-Tec is based in northern Israel and has a pilot facility beside the head office. At this facility, Grow-Tec is reportedly producing unheard-of yields in fruity crops. The company hopes to increase its yields by another 20-30% by the end of 2023.
7. Step aside, leafy greens – it’s high-value crops only in these space-bound pods
"We inflate the growing dome upon installation and we refill water every 6 months. The shape of the bubble helps optimize the airflow and climate," explains Barbara Belvisi of Interstellar Lab, a company that develops environment-controlled pods for crop cultivation on Earth and beyond...
As Barbara explains, the company has designed BioPods specifically for use on Earth and space, although the exact design differs depending on the location. Interstellar Lab designs the BioPod from start to design, from the dome-shaped structure down to the aeroponic system and water purification.
The founders of Tal-Kampanjol Aquaponics Farm
8. Malta: Aquaponic farming without significant operating costs
“We first started by growing anything that would easily allow us to enter the market and are now replacing these crops with others that are in higher demand. These are all accessible in vegetable boxes sent directly to clients,” explains Pierre Axiaq, Farmer and owner of Tal-Kampanjol Aquaponics Farm in Malta.
Tal-Kampanjol Aquaponics Farm began in 2014 when Pierre and his two colleagues resolved to produce local and nutritious produce in response to climate change challenges faced in Malta. The trio began with a prototype spanning 20 square meters, in which they tried various techniques from multiple disciplines and then filtered out what did or didn’t work. The farm then received funding to build a larger facility.
Abinand Rangesh pictured in the middle at the Indoor AgCon 2023
9. US: Vertical farm cuts down operational costs by 40-60% using chillers
"Customers like Hardee Fresh find a 40-60% operational cost reduction utilizing Tecochill Chillers. Powered by natural gas instead of electricity, our units can provide cooling at a significantly lower cost than conventional electric chillers. Tecochill chillers reduce the facility's electricity need to just 1-2 kW per unit compared to 190-300 kW necessary to power an electric chiller of equivalent size," shares Abinand Rangesh, CEO at Tecogen.
Supplied by Tecogen, the chillers satisfied their priority to pursue a sustainable vertical farm by cutting a large chunk of their Scope 2 emissions when producing the cooling power on site and recovering the waste heat from the CHP system.
10. Malaysia: 750m2 EduFarm opened in Kuala Lumpur city mall
A 750m2 indoor farm with educational purposes has been opened in the heart of Wangsa Maju, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, and is completely accessible to the public.
"We are thrilled to collaborate with AEON in bringing the Agroz EduFarm-in-City into the shopping and retail experience of AEON shoppers while at the same time creating awareness and experiential learning for parents, children, students, and the general public about how clean, healthy, and fresh vegetables are grown," says Gerard Lim, founder and CEO of Agroz Group.
Kushal Gurung pictured in the Kathmandu farm
11. Kathmandu: "Hybrid farm model ideal for low-income regions"
“Since Nepal’s economy is weak and the per capita income is very low, we came up with an improvised low-cost, locally designed and built greenhouse with a vertical hydroponic system that allows us to grow six times more and use 90% less water,” says Kushal Gurung, Founder, and CEO of Mutha Agro Pvt Ltd.
Due to Nepal’s reliance on traditional rainfed agriculture and the threat to the consistency of this water supply due to climate change, Kushal felt that it was time to begin rewriting the story of Nepalese agriculture, this time with hydroponic vertical farming as a climate-smart agricultural tool.
Mark Essam Zahran
12. “Pioneers get killed, second-generation farmers get rich”
"What currently is happening in vertical farming with high valuations, but also bankruptcies shows that the industry is maturing. The second generation of Vertical Farming companies, the so-called settlers, can learn a lot from the mistakes that have been made by the first generation, the pioneers."
"Ultimately, we can learn how more economically sustainable business models can be applied in Vertical Farming. In recent years we gathered valuable insights into what mistakes we can avoid and what proved to work," says Mark Essam Zahran, Co-founder, and CEO of YASAI, a Swiss vertical farming company.
13. Infarm's Dutch branch declared bankrupt
Recently, the Dutch branch of Infarm, which had already scaled down its activities in the Netherlands, was declared bankrupt. The vertical farming company had already been granted a deferment of payment. That suspension status has now been converted into bankruptcy. The company was registered as Infarm - Indoor Urban Farming B.V., which is no more.
The Infarm team let VerticalFarmDaily know that "The core trading operations, including our farm in Toronto, are not impacted by the group restructuring. This restructuring is aimed at bolstering the business for the future, and we will be sharing some exciting updates on these developments very soon."
F.l.t.r. Noah Zelkind (80 Acres Farms), Rocky Adkins, Mike Zelkind and Tisha Livingston (80 Acres Farms) and Meiny Prins (Priva)
14. US (KY): "This farm was sold out as soon as it opened"
"Vertical farming works. You have to grow crops effectively, operate efficiently at the right cost, and deliver on your promises to consumers. If some of those components aren't there, then, sure, the business model doesn't work. That's true in any industry. But we're building a sustainable business, and we're doing it with help from the right partners. This farm was sold out as soon as it opened. The demand is real, and we're able to scale up to meet it because we have the right unit economics," the 80 Acres Farms team shares with VerticalFarmDaily.
As the teaser gave away, 80 Acres Farms officially opened its Florence farm in Kentucky on September 13, joined by Kentucky officials and partners that participated in the construction of the facility. It's the company's largest, most advanced, and most productive farm just yet, as the team shares, comprising 200,000 square feet (18,500m2).
Hops, strawberries, lettuce, mushrooms, and tomatoes (Click here to zoom in)
15. Swap strawberries with mushrooms, using the same system? Say no more
"Being able to follow the fluctuating product demand, it's great to have a variety of produce that's affordable and viable in different seasons. For growers, it's a great benefit to fill seasonality gaps with a product, and once it's saturated, they can move on to the next main crop."
"We just need to adjust the light spectrum and various parameters to set up the needs of what crops you want to produce. With this approach, we can increase yield and decrease the growth cycles of different varieties to obtain economic feasibility of the crops," says Endre Harnes, Chief commercial officer at Avisomo, a Norwegian supplier of growing systems.
The main reason behind the flexibility of the system is that it's not rigid. If you have a fixed system, the irrigation, pipes, and lights are fixed, meaning you'd have to remove everything when swapping crops and reassemble everything back once it's all set.
Stay tuned for what we have in store for you in the coming year. If you're interested in setting up an interview to be featured in our publications, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.