For the first time, the federal government has declared a water shortage on the Colorado River that will severely curtail farmers’ ability to water their crops across the American West. "It’s another harbinger of the crises farmers must confront as extreme temperatures, droughts, floods, and unstable weather patterns from climate change devastate the agricultural industry," says Troy McClellan, president at AgriFORCE Solutions.
The company was founded to help growers address these impending crises. The AgriFORCE approach to efficient water utilization employs a number of technological innovations. It brings farming indoors in a Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) method but does so in a way that significantly differs from conventional indoor vertical farms and greenhouses.
AgriFORCE was founded to give growers an effective path to higher crop yields, lower costs, and consistently higher quality products. "Our proprietary facility design, systems, and operations were created to deliver clean, consistent, high-quality crops in virtually any climate, and more importantly in areas with drought and extreme weather," says Troy.
The AgriFORCE Intellectual Property (IP) creates a highly automated, precision grow environment within a fully-sealed building envelope. This facility design not only helps growers to collect and repurpose up to 90% of atmospheric water in the facility, but it also blocks out virtually all external pests, pathogens, and toxins– removing the need for any herbicides, pesticides, or irradiation.
"In addition to water conservation, the system uses substantially less energy compared to traditional indoor grow operations, requires much less fertilizer, and offers a significant reduction in labor costs," says Troy.
AgriFORCE achieves its water savings in large part through proprietary hybrid hydroponics, which is inherently more water-efficient than open-field as well as typical indoor farming according to Troy.
"Our system is engineered to be more efficient than traditional hydroponic cultivation. When you aggregate the water usage with other resources in the grow operation (minerals, nutrients, power, materials, etc.), the AgriFORCE IP is designed to deliver substantial efficiencies and conservation than conventional hydroponic grow operations, with higher crop yields," he says. " Plant transpiration within indoor facilitates can be extreme, capturing and repurposing that transpiration is a key breakthrough in the AgriFORCE IP."
Small, programmed fertigation
In terms of fertigation and nutrients, AgriFORCE uses specific and automated feed applications in repetitively small, programmed amounts, which according to Troy substantially reduces the overall water use compared to typical indoor farming. "The complete system is based on integrated, automated grow technology – powered by Internet of things (IoT) sensor technologies to artificial intelligence (AI) – it is constantly assessing and optimizing water, light, and nutrients to achieve the greatest possible crop yield, while consuming the lowest possible amount of natural resources."
Specialized building envelope membrane
The AgriFORCE growing system also addresses water utilization through the ways it manages light. "A key challenge for indoor growers in harsh, light-intensive environments is in providing the optimal spectral range for effective photosynthesis while conserving water and energy resources."
To that end, the facility design includes a high-tech, high-efficiency building envelope and proprietary construction engineering and materials that let optimal natural sunlight indoors with the support of supplemental grow lighting. A specialized building envelope membrane was developed allowing for near full light spectrum to reach the plants.
"Unlike the glass and polycarbonate used in greenhouses – which do not allow for a full light spectrum to enter the facility – the AgriFORCE facility delivers a clean, self-contained environment that maximizes natural sunlight and offers near-ideal supplemental lighting," says Troy. "This unique building envelope also includes the use of solar foam, which enables automated technologies to summon an indoor cloud covering during inclement periods to conserve water and energy. This innovation can best be described as translucent, virtual clouds that – in response to real-time data – are dynamically deployed throughout the grow house. The virtual clouds allow for solar gain control and the diffusion of light without affecting the light spectrum. This proprietary solar foam also provides the ability to manage the temperature of the facility in a more natural, cost-effective, and sustainable way."
Agricultural professionals face numerous existential challenges when it comes to farming in a rapidly changing climate: broken food supply chains, pollution, pesticides, soil and water contamination, erosion, climate change, extreme weather, unsustainable environmental practices, and dwindling agricultural water resources.
"It’s time to make things better," Troy concludes. "Growers are pleading for it. Governments are regulating it. Consumers are demanding it. As more agricultural water resources become threatened, AgriFORCE Growing Systems aims to transform CEA in harsh environments using a highly advanced facility design, systems and operations that merges an optimized indoor microclimate with natural sunlight, (supported by supplemental grow lighting) to maximize yields with the most efficient use of all natural and labor resources."