Lack of knowledge is one of the biggest issues in indoor agriculture, says Eric Stein, Executive Director of the Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture. "Lack of knowledge of the market place, lack of knowledge of growing, lack of knowledge of how to be profitable," he sums up. "In addition there is confusion about the best technologies to use." With the launch of the Center he hopes to help growers get over these challenges. From an online platform it will grow eventually to a headquarters and a technology demo facility.
"Our goal is to provide a place for connection and exchange to take place every day of the year", says Eric. He is Associate Professor of business at Penn State and CEO of Barisoft Consulting Group and advised businesses interested in setting up indoor farms, run workshops for the USDA on indoor farming and designed and operated an indoor vertical farm himself (e3garden) to conduct applied research on the economics of indoor farms.
Eric believes there's a lack of knowledge-sharing in the industry. "You have to go to the industry-specific conferences such as Indoor Ag-Con and Agtech NYC, which are great but bring together people for only a few days of the year."
The new center wants to connect growers with universities and investors to facilitate those relationships. "For example we are working to bring in a Silicon Valley investment group that is interested in funding agtech start-ups. We also offer an energy savings program for our members, esp. growers, who want to cut operating costs. We are in the process of populating an Amazon-like multi-vendor marketplace just for indoor ag. We are also developing discount programs for members to receive reduced rates to key conferences like Indoor Ag-Con."
This all takes place at the newly launched website, indooragcenter.org. “The site offers an opportunity to create a highly networked community for indoor agriculture that is available to the members throughout the year. We expect it will help investors find farms to invest in, help growers find the products and services they need, highlight key conferences and events, and develop a knowledge base of best practices, solutions, cases, and research. We invite all types of indoor growers to participate regardless of technology or product type; e.g., from greenhouses to plant factories and from leafy greens to mushrooms", says Eric.
In the near future the Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture wants to go offline as well. Phase two of its development includes raising capital and building a COE headquarters and technology demo facility in the greater Philadelphia area.
"Every industry has grown through bench-marking and knowledge sharing. The pharmaceutical industry is a case in point. I think we are reaching the point where indoor ag investors want accountability and transparency. We think the Center can help in this regard", Eric concludes.
"As we have seen recently, several companies have gone out of business. For instance, the container farms seem to not be doing well. I am not surprised because the logistics for growing in spaces like this are not optimal and the wild claims of profitability were not realistic, esp. given the high price of these units. We need to ground the business model for indoor ag on fundamentals, and that just is not happening in many cases. We think the investors will drive the need for better, curated knowledge, which is what the Center is all about."
For more information:
Indoor Ag Center