In New Jersey a company is creating a new kind of factory farm to compete with California produce growers. They are tearing down an old, outdated steel plant to build a warehouse to hold an indoor farm.
When the farm is at full production, it is expected to provide 30 harvests a year, growing 2 million pounds of leafy greens, including kale, arugula and romaine lettuce.
The company is call Aerofarms, and they are specialists in indoor growing. They’ve been doing it on a smaller scale in the New York area, and have developed systems that they say will scale to a large commercial operation. They use a technique called vertical farming – the plants are arranged not only in long rows but also in layers, so the same square foot of land could house many more plants. The crop grows in cloth instead of soil and is fed a nutrient mist.
The problem, of course, is these plants need light to grow, and providing enough light has always been cost-prohibitive in greenhouses. But advances in the science of lighting, such as the LED bulb, is changing that. Aerofarms says they have a lighting system that works cost-effectively, and investors seem convinced it will work. The investment firm Goldman Sachs reportedly has put up most of the $39 million dollars needed to build the facility.
Another problem is, hydroponically grown produce just doesn’t taste as good as farm-grown. The Aerofarms people say that’s not true any more with precise control of fertilization and micronutrients.
If it works as advertised, to the consumer the benefits of indoor vertical farming would probably outweigh a minor difference in flavor. The retail price of greens on the east coast should drop substantially. These factories use much less land than open air farms, they aren’t subjected to the vagaries of weather, and can be located anywhere. Plus, the crops are grown year round without regard to the seasons. With the cross-country shipping eliminated, those crops should sell for a low price. It just might be a game changer for the produce business.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.