U.S. vertical farms are racing against the sun

Leafy salad greens grown under banks of LED lights, with mist or drips of water are having their day in the sun. Several top U.S. indoor farms, stacked with plants from floor to ceiling, tell Reuters they are boosting production to a level where they can now supply hundreds of grocery stores.

Plenty, Bowery, Aerofarms and 80 Acres Farms are among young companies that see a future in salad greens and other produce grown in what is called vertical farms that rely on robotics and artificial intelligence, along with LED lights. While the first versions of modern vertical farms sprouted about a decade ago, in recent years the introduction of automation and the tracking of data to regulate light and water has allowed them to get out of lab mode and into stores. Now they are trying to scale up.

Plenty and others say their customized, controlled lighting - some more blue light here, some more red light there - makes for tastier plants compared to sun-grown leaves and that they use 95% less water than conventional farms, require very little land, and use no pesticides, making them competitive with organic farms. And because vertical farms exist in windowless buildings that can be located in the heart of urban areas, produce does not have to travel far by fossil-fuel-guzzling trucks to reach stores.

Plenty said its new farm, dubbed “Tigris,” can produce enough leafy greens to supply over 100 stores, compared with its previous farm that could only supply three stores and some restaurants.

The technology world is paying attention. In its last round in 2017 Plenty raised about $200 million from investors including Japan’s Softbank, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and former Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt. New York City-based Bowery raised $95 million in a fund-raising round led by Google Ventures and Temasek last year.

Read more at: Reuters (Jane Lanhee Lee)

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