Vertical Farms, Fad or Feast?

Hydroponic indoor farmers hope to charge a premium for plants grown out of season in indoor farms. The notion has generated attention from big investors, but whether or not consumers will follow is an open question.

July 9, 2018, 11:00 AM PDT

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark

Indoor Kale

Alexander Gold / Shutterstock

Is an indoor hydroponic farming boom coming? These farms use plenty of energy and make produce that is currently a lot more expensive than conventionally grown crops, but some think the appeal of out-of-season produce will be worth the cost. "Last year when San Francisco-based indoor farming startup Plenty, which grows a variety of salad and leafy greens hydroponically (without soil) and uses artificial lighting in facilities in three locations, announced that it had raised a whopping $200 million in funding from the SoftBank Vision Fund, whose investors include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos," Steve Holt writes for Civil Eats. These farms grow much more produce per acre than traditional farms.

"The astronomical capital costs associated with starting a large hydroponic farm (compared to field and greenhouse farming), its reliance on investor capital and yet-to-be-developed technology, and challenges around energy efficiency and environmental impact make vertical farming anything but a sure bet," Holt writes.

Another barrier to growth may be consumer perception of produce grown hydroponically. A University of Illinois study looked into the question. "They asked a panel of 117 participants a series of questions about their perceptions of and willingness to pay for lettuce grown in fields, greenhouses, and in vertical farms. While vertical farming ranked fairly high in terms of produce quality and safety, the tech-heavy production method was rated less 'natural' than both field farming and greenhouse and ranked last in participants’ willingness to purchase it," Holt reports.

Monday, July 2, 2018 in Civil Eats

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