What role will indoor-grown food be playing in the future and how will the vertical farming industry develop? There’s a lot going on: Investors find their way into the industry, growing facilities are scaling up and collaborations are being formed these days. On the other hand, companies go out of business, there’s talk about a bubble and the profitability and scalability of the sector is questioned regularly. At the Indoor AgTech event, that kicked off yesterday in New York, the future of the industry and its relationship with retail and consumers is being discussed.
The Indoor AgTech event unites over 300 companies interested in this industry and coming from various parts of the fresh produce chain - from technical suppliers and breeders to growers and retailers - showing there’s a lot of interest in the market. Panel discussions and talks are to help the industry find its way into a durable future.
That there’s opportunities for indoor growing is emphasized by many speakers at the event. Walter Robb for example, former CEO of Whole Foods, sees a disruption in the food value chain that he never saw before and believes there are opportunities for indoor farms as the retail industry is urged to innovate as well and the importance of produce is high. He says indoor agriculture operators have to respond to these opportunities as well: by moving to favorable products and telling their story to retailers and consumers for example, but also by closing the last mile data and connecting the consumer to the grower, sharing also nutritional and story aspects.
Sanjeev Krishnan, Tobias Peggs, Caleb Harper & Danielle Gould
Providing transparency was a recurring theme in more discussions on the first day of the Indoor AgTech. While on the one hand operators like Tobias Peggs with vertical farming company Square Roots explain how they’ve integrated their complete value chain from seed to retail and how almost 4 per cent of their packages get scanned by the consumer, providing data about the product, these individual closed chains are also defined as one of the challenges for the industry.
“Many indoor farming companies state they are an R&D company, software supplier, distributor and building its own produce brands”, says Caleb Harper with the OpenAg Initiative, doubting whether these individual integrated chains will bring the trust that’s needed to upscale and further develop the industry. He pleads for companies specializing in one part of the value chain, optimizing and sharing information gathered, developing the industry and in that way bringing trust to both investors and consumers. “We are to learn from the mistakes made in the industry. Whether it’s the US, Japan or even the Netherlands, some problems are unique, but standards exist. The greenhouse industry scaled thanks to creating and sharing these standards.”
Today Martin Veenstra, Head of Global Strategy, Indoor Farming at Certhon will take part in the session From Pilot to Mainstream: Automation and Systems Design to Transform Horticulture.
Roel Janssen and Blake Lange with Signify show the recently launched Production Module and GrowWise Control System
Irving Fain & Tom Colicchio of Bowery Farming at Indoor AgTech
Driving the industry
Other topics discussed in the event include investing opportunities and what’s needed to get proper funding. Today more greenhouse operators are programmed and also more technical suppliers will share what they can bring to the industry. We will of course keep you updated and provide you with a photo report on Monday.