US (CA): Combining modern robotics, hydroponics and traditional farming in new Lockhart greenhouse

On Thursday, a California-based farming operation announced the opening of its new greenhouse in Lockhart. Iron Ox aims to combine robotics, hydroponic and traditional farming techniques to grow produce through a more sustainable, eco-friendly method. "A key part of our design, our hydroponics, our robotics and other technologies is useful to get closer and closer to that zero waste growing so we can significantly reduce the amount of water and greenhouse gas emissions from our food," CEO Brandon Alexander said at the proverbial ribbon-cutting.

The facility uses robots and data analytics to study what plants need and don't need, according to Alexander. Right now, Iron Ox is growing lettuce, kale and two different kinds of basil, with plans to grow fruiting produce like strawberries and cucumbers soon. 

Iron Ox engineers designed and built the robots that carry the hydroponic plant trays around the greenhouse. About half the greenhouse remains empty for now, waiting for more (in both quantity and diversity) plants to sprout. Alexander said he hopes this design brings fresh produce to communities everywhere but added it won't replace traditional farming either.

"The whole point of this is to be able to grow closer to cities and towns, basically grow closer to people," Alexander said. "Farming today is incredibly centralized, only growing in a few parts of the United States for fresh fruits and vegetables. With our design in our greenhouses, we can control the environment. We can grow from polar climates down to tropical climates and everything in between, and set these up closer to towns."

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