What we can learn
Vertical farming could have an impact far beyond allowing stores to grow produce in-house. “Centuries ago, the producer and the consumer had a personal relationship based on proximity and individual needs,” says Rob Dongoski, EY Agribusiness Leader. “Over time, we've created a distance.
“Now, consumers again increasingly want to understand their food’s producer, the nutritional value, whether it’s organic – and they want to be able to trust the food they’re eating is healthy. The way you do that is data.”
But the full potential of data is yet to be realized in the food production and supply chains.
“The current food system is facing significant reinvention,” Dongoski continues, echoing Oshima’s identification of the status quo needing to change. “If we have an e-coli break out on romaine lettuce, we clear all the shelves, because we can't track the outbreak effectively. Controlled farming allows us to do that tracking. And more generally, consumers want to know how and where their food is produced. This is difficult in traditional production but controlled environment offers some real promise.”
“The kind of highly-controlled technology and data-driven approach to farming is the future,” Dongoski says. “When you're farming in an indoor environment, you control all the variables, therefore, you don't need herbicides, pesticides, and so on. It’s an environment with much stronger biosecurity that ensures safety and trust.”
However, the benefits go beyond data into becoming a genuine societal necessity. “With the projected rate of urbanization – you have some forecasts upwards of 70% – the traditional concept of growing food out in the countryside and bringing it into towns and cities becomes logistically difficult on many, many levels,” Dongoski says. “Vertical farms, which can grow food in the heart of cities, are likely to become essential to urban food supply as the world’s population heads towards 10 billion by 2050.”
“This increased proximity of food production to where it’s going to be consumed in cities will, in turn, boost the sustainability of indoor farming even further. Not only will there be less need for transportation from countryside to city, but you also remove seasonality from the equation,” he continues. “Rather than flying apples halfway round the world to meet demand, you create new ways of thinking about food. This approach of bringing together people with different skillsets and experiences simply means they’re ahead of the curve.”
“This increased sustainability, data insight, visibility of provenance and the control all of that will bring, will enable entirely new ways of thinking about food. Aerofarms’ approach of bringing together people with different skillsets and experiences simply means they’re ahead of the curve.”
“As consumers demand more local crops and large row crop farmers continue to innovate their production practices, opportunities in controlled environment agriculture will continue to emerge for farmers and non-farmers alike.”