Launching a successful new business concept requires a strong purpose, a focus on research, an innovative business model, and a willingness to adapt to the market.
Starting a new business is tough for any start-up, but building a company on an entirely new business concept presents a whole other level of challenges. In a conversation with McKinsey’s Jerome Königsfeld, Infarm CEO and cofounder Erez Galonska shares his passion and vision to change the way people eat and reflects on his learnings from bringing the Infarm food-production concept to 50 percent of the world’s largest food retailers.
When you think of twinkling lights at night, you probably imagine sparkling cityscapes rather than fields of rural farms.
Not so with Studio Roosegaarde’s latest project, Grow. Founder Daan Roosegaarde and his team swathed over 215,000 square feet of leek crops in undulating red, blue, and UV LED light. They activate the lights at night, giving the field the appearance of glowing creatures at the bottom of the ocean instead of a farm. The agency calls it an “homage to the beauty of agriculture,” but it also highlights the surprising science behind how light design can help plants grow
Plenty is an ag-tech startup in San Francisco, co-founded by Nate Storey, that is reinventing farms and farming. Storey, who is also the company’s chief science officer, says the future of farms is vertical and indoors because that way, the food can grow anywhere in the world, year-round; and the future of farms employ robots and AI to continually improve the quality of growth for fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Plenty does all these things and uses 95% less water and 99% less land because of it.
In recent years, farmers on flat farms have been using new tools for making farming better or easier. They’re using drones and robots to improve crop maintenance, while artificial intelligence is also on the rise, with over 1,600 startups and total investments reaching tens of billions of dollars. Plenty is one of those startups. However, flat farms still use a lot of water and land, while a Plenty vertical farm can produce the same quantity of fruits and vegetables as a 720-acre flat farm, but on only 2 acres!
The state of Maine once had one of North America’s great wild Atlantic salmon runs, now destroyed by polluting paper, textile, and saw mills and the construction of hundreds of dams.
It was replaced with open-pen salmon farming, but that created new problems. Now a new kind of salmon farming – inland rather than offshore – is supposed to solve all those problems and more, providing jobs and putting an end to escaped fish polluting the remaining wild stocks.
One of these land-based salmon farms is planned for Bucksport, a down-on-its-luck industrial town of 5,000 people on the estuary of the Penobscot, a struggling wild salmon river. Another is intended for Belfast, population 6,700, further south on scenic Penobscot Bay. As in much of coastal Maine, in the north-eastern corner of the US, this historic town has become a haven for affluent incomers, who buy summer homes and attract shops and boutiques.
Until 2014, Bucksport was home to the Verso paper mill. When it closed about 500 people lost their jobs, and the town was left with an ugly, smoke-stacked industrial site. Like most paper mills, it was extremely polluting. The fish farm, part of a Maine company called Whole Oceans, has been welcomed, the local view being that it would be less polluting than a paper mill and might also replace some of the lost jobs. “I’m not sure we could do any better than what we’re doing. If there was [something], I don’t know what it would be,” says town manager Sue Lessard.
Home gardening is difficult enough as it is, but it gets even trickier when you live in small city quarters. With city living’s and home gardening’s popularity rising in recent years, those of us who live in apartment complexes might feel discouraged from starting home garden projects – they’re messy and time-consuming, not to mention that a lot of space is usually a prerequisite. That’s why SOLE was created. SOLE, a home gardening system, poses first as a small coffee table only to reveal a hidden, self-maintained, miniature garden for city dwellers who want to fill their homes up with some natural greens, but not the fuss that typically comes with them.
More people are moving into cities, which means that access to home gardening is decreasing since natural light is harder to come by and smaller apartment spaces, like efficiency studios, are preferred. Thankfully, SOLE’s coffee table was designed to take up as little space as possible in order to fit into even the smallest of studios. Indoor urban gardening is usually practiced by using grow box containers that require a lot of window ledge space and natural sunlight – both of which can be hard to come by in city apartment searches. In order to make home gardening possible in any city-living space, SOLE maintains the perfect climate, temperature, and nutrients for you and your chosen plants so long as they fit inside the coffee table’s extensive body. While researching the influence of temperature, exposure time, intensity, color from visible light, along with the distance and angle of light distribution, the designers behind SOLE decided to incorporate a lighting system that would enhance plant growth by imitating the effect the sun’s rays have on indoor plants.
Researchers planted radishes in this miniature greenhouse using their self-watering soil and compared it to sandy soil found in dry regions of the world.
A new type of soil created by engineers at The University of Texas at Austin can pull water from the air and distribute it to plants, potentially expanding the map of farmable land around the globe to previously inhospitable places and reducing water use in agriculture at a time of growing droughts.
As published in ACS Materials Letters, the team’s atmospheric water irrigation system uses super-moisture-absorbent gels to capture water from the air. When the soil is heated to a certain temperature, the gels release the water, making it available to plants. When the soil distributes water, some of it goes back into the air, increasing humidity and making it easier to continue the harvesting cycle.
Israel-based agricultural drone manufacturer Tevel Aerobotics Technologies Ltd. is completing its third round of funding – a $20 million financing round raising its valuation to a cool $45 million
These orders are meant for autonomous drones developed by Tevel Aerobotics which are equipped with a one-meter long mechanical claw. This mechanical extension can be used to pick fruit or for thinning and pruning tasks in orchards.
Tevel claims to use artificial intelligence capabilities on a ground-based mobile unit that acts as the autonomous brain of the drones. The brain lets them identify fruit types, blemishes, and the level of ripeness.
Even though the global fruit-cultivation is expected to grow, the company expects the number of agricultural workers in the field to reduce, projecting a a potential for $3 billion in annual sales to growers in the U.S. and Europe
The wide range of utility that drones offer is sure to make them a popular instrument in the coming years. As a testimony to this, Israel-based agricultural drone manufacturer Tevel Aerobotics Technologies Ltd. is completing its third round of funding – a $20 million financing round raising its valuation to a cool $45 million.
The tech could lead to more sustainable farming practices.
In 2018, Alphabet’s X lab said it was in the process of exploring how it could use artificial intelligence to improve farming. On Monday, X announced that its “computational agriculture” project is called Mineral. The Mineral team has spent the last several years “developing and testing a range of software and hardware prototypes based on breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, simulation, sensors, robotics and more.”
One of the tools that has come out of the project is a robotic plant buggy. Powered by solar panels, the machine makes its way across a farmer’s field, examining every plant it passes along the way with an array of cameras and sensors. In conjunction with satellite, weather and soil data, Mineral says the buggy and its AI software can identify patterns and give farmers insights into their crops.
Pressures on agriculture have forced a technological revolution that are driving a new age of farming.
The agriculture industry has hit a turning point. Faced with a massive labor crunch and environmental instability, aggressive technology deployments are no longer an option for outliers in the sector, but a necessary and critical element in the success of the farm.
Enabling the transformation are a host of new developers, but also legacy companies with deep roots in agriculture. Smart technology from companies like John Deere, for example, is helping farmers to produce more with less and create more successful crops, all while having a smaller impact on the land and environment. In contrast to prevailing wisdom that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, John Deere is employing AI and machine learning in its equipment to identify and enable needed actions at a scope and speed beyond human capacity, automating farming actions through smart robotics to enable consistent and precise actions at large scale, and providing precise, geospatial intelligence generated with machine technology and coupled with cloud-stored data to enable sustainable farming.
In other words, it’s like farming with technologies that might be more commonly associated with NASA than a tractor company. I caught up with Dr. Cristian Dima, Lead of Advanced Algorithms, John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group, to discuss the changes underway in the farming sector and what we can expect going forward.
FORT BENTON — Thursday was a big day in Fort Benton as the mayor, a U.S. senator, and hemp farmers broke ground on a new facility – the first of its kind in the nation.
Employees of the industrial hemp company IND HEMP were joined by Fort Benton Mayor Rick Morris and Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester for the ceremony, which marked the opening of the nation’s first scaled hemp decortication and fiber processing plant. The Chouteau County town, with around 1,500 residents, gained national attention for the opening event.
“Stuff like this just doesn’t come along for rural Montana,” said Morris. “It’s a big deal for Fort Benton.”
The Thammasat University Rooftop Farm measures roughly 236,800 sq ft (22,000 sq m), making it the largest organic rooftop farm in Asia
The Thammasat University Rooftop Farm (or TURF), by Landprocess, puts an abandoned rooftop area belonging to Thammasat University’s Rangsit Campus to fine use as an organic farm. The project incorporates solar power and rainwater collection, and is used to teach sustainable farming techniques.
This indoor Japanese farm uses LED lights and hydroponics to produce lettuce 2.5 times faster, with just 1% of the water, when compared to an outdoor farm.
When we think about factories, and what we decry as “factory farms,” we probably don’t think very highly of them as being a key component in the future of agriculture, but if we can take what factories do best, such as use technology to build efficient production lines, and pair that with what nature does best, which is growing biomass from light and water and minerals, then growing food in plant factories starts to make a lot of sense.
Converting what were formerly industrial buildings into indoor farming operations, especially in urban areas and locations that aren’t conducive to year-round outdoor food production, could be an excellent reuse of existing resources (the buildings themselves, the infrastructure that supports them, and their locations in or near cities) to help build a more sustainable food system. And this sort of operation can be done in a way that’s both highly efficient and productive (PDF), in essence turning our ideas about industrial-scale factory farming on their heads.