The urban indoor vertical farm industry is at an important juncture. Automation is taking root, long-term contracts with creditworthy retail and food service distributors are in the works and vertical farms are preparing to scale up. Also, the industry is about to get its first trade group, the American Association for Urban and Vertical Farming.
"The vertical farming industry in the U.S. is at a point where — if provided facilitation in terms of industry coordination, information exchange, innovation, education, training, funding, etc. — ... it can be enabled to reach critical mass," said Joel Cuello, a University of Arizona professor of biosystems engineering and vice chair of the Munich-based Association for Vertical Farming (AVF).
Just as important: a trade association can advocate for the industry and help it secure more funding.
In the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, an annual allotment of $10 million was established to develop an office of urban agriculture and supporting projects, said Neil Mattson, controlled environment agriculture director and associate professor/greenhouse extension specialist at Cornell University. That’s a relatively small amount that includes everything from vertical farms to urban community gardens.
Whether industry-wide collaboration is needed or wanted at this stage is unclear. Sharing information could accelerate the industry’s development, but it also could dilute the value of a firm’s propriety research and development efforts.