Growing Upwards: A Look at Indoor Agriculture

Growing upwards

The indoor agriculture industry is growing. The amount of arable land and water for irrigation for traditional agriculture is decreasing. This matched with a skyrocketing global population means that there are real threats to our future food supply. Indoor agriculture offers a real solution to this problem as it allows food to be grown anywhere at any time of the year. Paired with IoT technology, modern farmers are able to monitor and control their crops with a level of precision that was previously unavailable.

A decade ago, indoor agriculture was dominated by greenhouses, however, technological advances have created a boom in vertical farms and more advanced greenhouses. HWTrek has a host of experts who can either directly provide vertical farming hardware or components of an indoor agriculture system. Investors have been a little cautious so far, but the future looks bright. We have only scratched the surface of what can be achieved in indoor agriculture and HWTrek is looking to bring together the movers and shakers in this growing field, to propel the technology of tomorrow.

Types of indoor agriculture facilities

When we talk about indoor agriculture, we are actually discussing a range of different solutions that use a variety of farming methods and technology. The main types are listed below:

Aeroponic Greenhouse

These are translucent where plant roots are suspended in the air. The plants are misted with nutrient solutions and the structure is climate controllable.

Aquaponic Greenhouse

These are again translucent structures that are climate controllable. The plants are grown in water that has been used to cultivate aquatic organisms such as frogs or fish.

Container Farm

These are standardized and self-contained units that utilize vertical farming systems and artificial lighting.  We wrote previously about Agricool, a French container farm start-up in Paris.

Hydroponic Greenhouse

These are translucent, climate controllable structures in which plants are grown in water rather than soil. One of the largest hydroponic greenhouses in the world just launched in Ohio. The new facility will host over 200,000 plants and will offer fresh veggies to consumers within a ten-mile radius.

Indoor Vertical Farm

These are fully enclosed rooms that are opaque, fitted with artificial lights and have vertical hydroponic, aeroponic or aquaponic system. Recently, an indoor vertical farm launched in New York’s Bowery has been getting a lot of media attention, with a number of other high-profile indoor farm projects.

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Indoor vertical farm

Number crunching

One of the main reasons that indoor farms are gaining significant traction in the US market, is that they allow people to produce more food with fewer resources.The 2016 Agrilyst State of Modern Farming Study found that indoor agriculture is about 4000 times more effective than conventional outdoor commodity farming. The higher revenues generated by indoor agriculture derives from three key factors:

  1. Year round production capability. There average lettuce farmed in California has growth cycles ranging from 65 days in the summer to 130 days in the winter. In comparison a lettuce grown indoors has growth cycles between 15-35 days, meaning that the average indoor farmer can expect 18 growth cycles within a year. 91% of indoor farmers grow the whole year round.
  2. Higher yield. The average yield for an outdoor grown lettuce was 30,000 pounds per acre. However, for a lettuce grown indoors, farmers can expect average yields of 340,000. This represents an increase around an 11x increase in yields for the same crop.
  3. Higher retail prices. According to USDA, the average price per pound of conventionally grown leaf lettuce in 2015 was $0.59. However, growers of indoor greens were averaging around $6.00 for a pound of their crops. This means that they can sell their crops for around 10x that of the conventional farmer.

Panasonic builds indoor farm in Singapore

Recognizing the value and potential of indoor agriculture, a number of major players have moved into the market, some completely detached from the agriculture field whatsoever. Japanese electronics colossus, Panasonic, owns and manages the largest indoor farm in Singapore and plans to achieve an annual production of 1,000 tons by the end of 2017.  In 2014, the farm produced just 3.6 tons of produce per year, but by adopting the latest indoor technology they have managed to surpass any early expectations of output for the farm.

The farm grows vegetables all year with LED’s acting as a replacement for direct sunlight. The LED’s shine at an optimized frequency that stimulates the plants to grow as fast as possible. To ensure stable and high-quality production throughout the year, temperature, humidity and CO2 levels are monitored and controlled, using an array of sensors. Watering the crops is done through tiny nozzles that spray the right amount of nutrient rich water.  With such limited space, the growing beds are stacked to the ceiling, which maintains higher yields.

Singapore, as a city-state, needs to import over 90% of its crops. Indoor agriculture has the potential to increase both the countries self-sufficiency and also the quality of life through better quality food.  The farm grows over 40 types of crops are grown in the warehouse, including a variety of radishes, lettuces, and chards. These premium Japanese-quality crops are far cheaper than similar levels of imports. Panasonic’s grander aim is to contribute over 5% of the total amount of food locally produced in Singapore by the end of 2017.

For other companies, looking to recreate the success that Panasonic has had in Singapore, there are a number of experts within the HWTrek ecosystem who can offer solutions related to indoor agriculture. Fondly International offer indoor environment control systems for indoor agriculture facilities. Dragon Lily offer LED’s and lighting systems optimized for growing plants and getting the highest yields possible. Light Farms offer full indoor farm solutions and LED‘s for agriculture.

Future of indoor agriculture:

The topic of indoor agriculture has been getting a lot of hype in the media, but so far investment seems to have not matched this level of excitement. Of the $1.8 billion raised in AgTech investment in the first half of 2016, only $77 million of that was for indoor agriculture projects. However, with the coming costs decreases in LED technology, indoor agriculture is set to become a more viable option. Moreover, as the local food movement continues to grow, both consumers and restaurants will begin to consider the environmental impact of having food grown locally. Meaning, that the food on your plate, will soon more than likely be sourced from an indoor farm.

The indoor agriculture industry is an exciting space right now, with unexpected innovations popping up in the media nearly every week. If you are working on a related project, please get in touch with us at HWTrek.

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Written By

Digital Marketing Manager