Month: February 2021

Creating A Whole New Fresh Food Experience Category | Q&A With Fifth Season CEO Austin Webb

Fifth Season has been making headlines in recent weeks . In addition to a feature story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, other outlets have covered the vertical-and-robotic-farming pioneer’s  expanded distribution partnership with food retailer Giant Eagle Inc., and its designation as “Official Greens” provider for the NHL 2020 -2021 season of the Pittsburgh Penguins. These stories follow many others that have tracked the company’s impressive innovations and accomplishments over the last year.

Austin Webb CEO Fifth SeasonHeadquartered in Pittsburgh, Fifth Season’s newest vertical farm in Braddock, PA, a historic steel town on the edge of Pittsburgh, features a 25,000-square-foot grow room with twice the growing capacity of traditional vertical farms. It is set to grow more than 500,000 lbs. of produce in its first full year of operation.

Indoor Ag-Con had a chance to catch up with Fifth Season CEO Austin Webb, who co-founded the company with brother Brac Webb (and one of this week’s Indoor Ag-Conversations panelists) and Austin Lawrence. In this Q&A, Austin shares more about company’s mission, unique approach and plans for the future:Fifth Season Founders

Q: The state of PA is quickly becoming a hot spot for indoor vertical farming for food production. What does this mean to you as it relates to providing solid jobs and living wages to a previously economically depressed area?

At Fifth Season, creating a whole new category of fresh food experience is paramount to our mission.  As is a deep community engagement across new economic development, new jobs, increased food security, and newfound discovery of STEM/Ag education.

In 2020, Fifth Season donated over 5,000 meals to our neighbors in need.  We also  successfully hired 100% of our jobs with local Braddock and Pittsburgh residents. This helped to create a new workforce of the future – i.e. new Ag Manufacturing jobs inside the city that have never existed before.

Overall, we chose to build in Pittsburgh’s historic steel town of Braddock for a reason. Solving large global problems with deep, local community engagement is important to us. You would never expect that a company could sustainably grow such clean produce in the heart of steel town USA. But at Fifth Season, that’s what creating a whole new category of fresh food experience is all about.

Q: With Bowery Farming expanding to Bethlehem, do you feel any sense of competition?

Fifth Season GreensNot at all. We are extremely differentiated in this space given our technology and economics. Furthermore, the real competition is traditional outdoor growing out West. Our  industry needs to adopt scalable technologies faster, if we’re going to win. At Fifth Season, we’ve developed the first truly scalable technology platform with positive unit economics that work today with one facility – not 5 years from now with a requirement of 5+ facilities. This is also an industry-first.

Q: What’s been the toughest yet most rewarding part of your job as Fifth Season CEO?

Indoor Ag is a tough business. There’s never an easy win; you have to earn them all. The overall resilience it has taken our team to build our disruptive tech platform in such a demanding business with such hard requirements across a breadth of technical factors —  including but not limited to hardware, software, grow science, operations design, new food product development, etc. —  is extraordinary and rewarding. I am beyond proud of the Fifth Season team.

Q: Is there any part of your job that you never saw coming? Something you’ve done which was not in the job description?

One subset of our values is “no job is too small.” So whatever it takes to complete the mission, it’s in the job description. And this makes our challenging jobs here at Fifth Season even more fun. It’s inspiring to see engineers, horticulturalists, food scientists, product managers, supply chain specialists, and marketing gurus coming together at one table. You won’t find a more cross-functional, cross-disciplined company / team to work with than Fifth Season!Fifth Season Greens in bowl

Q: What differentiates Fifth Season from other indoor farms in the marketplace today?

Namely, we are the only vertical farm that has positive unit economics with just one 60K square foot facility. We provide a superior return on capital compared to leafy greens greenhouses, because we designed a smart manufacturing system, not a farm. This has given us a stepwise function change in key cost drivers.  Among them,  labor and density (therefore, lbs to fixed costs ratio).

This is all driven by our truly automated end-to-end platform. Every single step of the process, not just a couple of areas, is automated with strategically embedded human-robot interaction. More importantly, the entire process is run by our proprietary software brain and pathfinding algorithm. As a result, all of that automation – all electromechanical systems – sits within our software skin and in-house built firmware, which is truly industry 5.0

We’ve been able to do this because we approached this problem differently. Instead of moving farming from outdoors to indoors, or simply sprinkling on technology to part of a growing platform, we rolled up our sleeves and built an entirely unique system from the ground up – all with just a fraction of the time and a fraction of the capital compared to the rest of the space.

Fifth Season Founders in Biodome (To-date, Indoor Ag has unfortunately been held back by overhyped, false promises and facade tech demonstrations. It’s time to put that behind us and finally usher in the Indoor Ag future we’ve all been waiting for – with Fifth Season technology.

6- What’s next for Fifth Season?

Fifth Season is extremely excited to be expanding both our products and our geographic presence. We’re taking the impact we’re making in Braddock and Pittsburgh-wide to other communities across the country

To learn more about Fifth Season, check out video below and  visit www.fifthseasonfresh.com 

 

Hoogendoorn New Partner Company of Dutch Greenhouse Delta (DGD)

Indoor Ag-Con Exhibitor Hoogendoorn Duch GreenhouseIndoor Ag-Con Exhibitor News Hoogendoorn  –  Dutch Greenhouse Delta (DGD) is proud to welcome four new partner companies this year. “The arrival of Hoogendoorn Growth Management, Signify, Logiqs and Koppert Biological Systems, signifies the addition of an enormous wealth of knowledge and experience in all horticultural disciplines”, says Eric Egberts, CEO of Dutch Greenhouse Delta. In total, DGD is working with no fewer than 25 partners, with whom they are collectively offering a horticultural eco-system through Fork2Farm, consisting of science, entrepreneurship, education and government.

Tackle challenges together

“We can see that globalisation is happening very quickly but, at the same time, we’re seeing countries closing their borders. The demand for healthy, fresh, sustainable and locally-grown food is therefore rising dramatically. The scale and complexity of projects is also increasing. If we tackle these challenges collectively, we can make a substantial contribution to the supply of sufficient healthy, affordable and safe food which is produced sustainably and locally. Hoogendoorn Growth Management, Signify, Logiqs and Koppert Biological Systems are a great complement in contributing to the realization of this ambition.” Eric Egberts, states.

Hoogendoorn; contributing to a sustainable approach

Hoogendoorn Growth Management develops the most advanced process computers, which contribute to an efficient and sustainable approach to water, climate and energy. Angela Barendregt, Project Manager of International Business & Strategy at Hoogendoorn explains why they decided to become a partner of DGD: “In a world where change is a constant factor, horticultural companies must innovate at lightning speed. Chain cooperation should be seen as the key to accelerating the development of new technologies in this world. Dutch Greenhouse Delta can be regarded as a pathfinder for many growers in the world who are looking for innovative and sustainable technological solutions.”

Dutch Greenhouse Delta

Dutch Greenhouse Delta was founded in September 2017 to market Dutch greenhouse horticulture worldwide as a cluster. They do this by offering the entire horticultural eco-system of Fork2Farm, consisting of science, enterprise, education and government, in a number of focus regions. The foundation focuses on large-scale complex projects and issues relating to food and horticulture in expanding mega-cities. At the present time, 25 greenhouse horticulture companies and the branch organisations AVAG and LTO Glaskracht are affiliated with their members, all of whom are contributing to the realisation of the foundation’s activities.

MFG Trays For Insect Rearing

MFG Tray Indoor Ag-Con Exhibitor Update — The possibilities are endless with insect rearing, such as mealworm farming. Insects such as mealworms are packed with important nutrients and proteins and are much more environmentally sustainable than other sources. It has become very popular – most used as an alternative animal feed, for wildlife rescues, used in the aquaponics industry and even in human consumption as meals.  MFG Tray Indoor Ag-Con Exhibitor

From home-based farms to commercial production, entomologists at insect rearing facilities all over the world have been using MFG Tray’s durable and dependable trays for over 40 years. MFG Tray has a variety of sizes of trays and containers that are utilized in all life cycles of mealworm and insect farming. MFG trays feature stackable, interlocking designs with drop ends and/or sides to increases air circulation which allows for quicker cooling and growing of the eggs, larva, and pupae.

Indoor Ag-Con Exhibitor MFG Tray for Insect RearingThey are commonly used stacked consecutively with other MFG trays or on an MFG custom dolly for transportation. The trays are constructed of fiberglass composite material and are produced to last in severe and heavy-duty industrial environments yielding a high return on investment. We have seen trays in service for over 15 years in many applications. Trust MFG trays and containers for your farming needs. Customers are encouraged to contact MFG Tray to discuss any unique handling and design requirements.

>> Does not absorb heat and resists development of hot spots as larvae bundle together and move around more
>> Corrosion resistant to high acidic diet and the corresponding waste produced
>> Easily steam cleaned and sterilized
>> Dimensionally consistent – ideal for machine integration and robotic applications
>> Drop ends and/or sides increases air circulation
>> Conforms to FDA Regulation Title 21 CFR 177.2420
>> Interlock stacking increases drying room efficiency
>> Temperature range continuous -60° to 250° F (-51° to 121° C)
>> Won’t bend, dent or deflect under heavy loads
>> Customized options and heavy-duty dollies available

Case Study:Percival Scientific and Iowa State University Collaborate on The Effects of Climate Change on Plant Growth

Percival Scientific Case StudyPercival Scientific Case Study:  When researchers from the Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State University asked Percival Scientific to collaborate on a first-of-its-kind research facility with customized chambers that could be accessed by a robotic rover, the Percival engineering team jumped at the chance.

The multidisciplinary project, called Enviratron, was initially funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Dr. Stephen Howell, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Plant Sciences Institute. He is also former Director of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“It has been a wonderful collaboration,” says Howell. “We have worked very closely with the engineers at Percival. They have been very interested in a project that had some very unique challenges, and we have helped each other through it.”

Testing Plants Against Climate Change

“What we are really trying to do is test various plants, selected for certain traits, for their ability to respond to different environmental conditions,” explains Howell.

The project focuses on staple crops such as corn, soybeans and rice, as well as bioenergy crops like switch grass, to identify plant genotypes most able to withstand climate changes. “This is a parameter on which no research has been done thus far,” he adds.

The Obstacles of Climate-Based Research

Up to this point, testing the impact of climate changes on plants typically has been done by planting them in various locations with different environmental conditions and then making observations and taking measurements.Percival Scientific and Iowa State University Case Study This approach is fraught with shortcomings, including the inability to isolate the plants from multiple influences other than climate as well as the inability to manipulate the climate to reflect anticipated future conditions.

Current research facilities using plant growth chambers can only provide one climatic model at a time. This limitation reduces the scope of any study to a single variable: the genotype of the plants. And while current facilities provide consistent environmental conditions as compared to outdoors, they still require removing and transporting plants for sampling, which exposes them to uncontrollable elements that introduce uncertainty in the research results.

Chambers Designed for Automated Testing

Howell and his team worked with Percival to solve these challenges by creating a fully isolated research facility. It contains eight independent chambers which are accessed by a robotic rover that samples and tests plants within the chambers without altering or contaminating the environment. It’s the first facility to conduct automated phenotyping of plants under a variety of environmental conditions in a single experiment.

The rover, which was developed with the help of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, is fully automated, allowing 24-hour research testing using a holographic camera, hyper-spectral sensor, fluorescence detector and a Raman scattering spectrometer. The rover collects precise location-specific data, resulting in improved sampling strategies and data quality. “The mountains of high-quality data coming out of this project will be staggering,” says Howell, when comparing the accuracy, consistency and productive time of automated testing to that of lab technicians.

Percival specially designed the chambers to accommodate the rover, which enters the chamber through an airlock. After the environment has been equilibrated between the airlock and the chamber, a divider raises to allow the robot access to the plants.

These are not your standard chambers,” says Steve Whitham, Iowa State University Professor, Plant Pathology and Microbiology. “They’ve been designed from the ground up specifically for the Enviratron project.

 

Percival Takes On the Challenges

“Here at the Roy J Carver Co-Laboratory we have a number of Percival chambers that we have had for many years. They have proven to be very reliable, so we were very confident about working with Percival on this project,” explains Howell, echoing the opinion of universities and colleges around the country. He adds that the opportunity to work with an Iowa-based company was a plus as well.Percival Scientific and Iowa State

“Designing chambers to be accessible via a robot was just the beginning of the challenges presented to Percival when we began the project,” said Henry Imberti, Senior VP of Engineering for Percival Scientific.

This project necessitated the design of new chamber features, such as an actuated, sliding vestibule door. Not only did the door need to accommodate the unique size of the rover, but it also needed to be remotely actuated through the chamber’s central control system.

Additionally, the door opening required a smooth threshold to accommodate the specialized wheel system on the rover while maintaining an adequate seal when closed to ensure environmental conditions inside the experiment space remained undisturbed.

Another aspect requiring significant development was the optimization of the vestibule environment. The main objective was to retain environmental conditions inside the chamber per specifications throughout all operating scenarios.

A secondary goal was to minimize system complexity for various reasons, including initial cost, energy efficiency and ease of maintenance. In the end, Percival was able to develop and deploy a design to satisfy both of these criteria.

Other design challenges included tight control of temperature, humidity, CO2, photo period, light irradiance, light quality, air movement and water potential in the soil. The chambers also had to accommodate a variety of crops such as maize, soybeans, tobacco, rice, switch grass and low light species. Finally, Percival needed to keep the design costs within budget.

The Specifications

Percival was able to deliver on the design requirementsand then some. Design features included:

  • Growth Area 21.5 ft² (2.0 m²)
  • Exterior Dimensions

Width 106̎ (269 cm)

Depth 84̎ (213 cm)

Height 138̎ (350 cm)

  • Maximum Growing Height 106̎ (269 cm)
  • Light Intensity 1720 μmoles/m²/sec at 36̎ (91 cm)

from the lamps

  • Temperature Range (Lights on @ 100%) 10°C to 44°C
  • % Relative Humidity Control Range

40% to 80% from 15°C to 30°C (Lights on @ 100%)

  • CO2 Control Range 100 to 5000 μmol/mol

An Air-flow design optimized through the use of CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software. The design bypass system reduces unwanted leaf movement produced by air currents while the rover is attempting to take measurements.Percival Case Study

Electrically-actuated lamp canopy that adjusts the height of the lamp bank to be closer to the plant canopy for other future light sources such as LEDs.

DALI dimmable lighting allows each ceramic metal halide bulb to dim individually, enhancing the chamber’s ability to produce highly uniform light intensity across the growing space.

Unique software applications include Percival’s propriety WeatherEze, which gives Howell and his team the ability to program the chamber environment to simulate growing conditions from all over the world.

Percival’s IntellusUltra Control System provides a touchscreen interface as well local and remote data collection and cloud storage.

The Global Impact

While melting polar ice caps and rising tides in South Beach are the go-to shots for photojournalists covering climate change, a much less obvious, but no less serious, change is occurring in the breadbaskets of the world.

Climate change threatens the parameters of regional growing seasons. Iowa State University and Percival Scientific support urgentlyneeded research to identify those genetic traits amongour food crops that will withstand the gradual changes  in environment that are already occurring. Enviratron will permit scientists to incrementally alter critical variables in keeping with projected changes. It will help prepare the agricultural community, from the research scientist to the farmer in the field, to continue providing the products that sustain the world’s population, a task of the highest priority.

For more information, please visit www.percival-scientific.com, call 1.800.695.2743 or email info@percival-scientific.com.

Indoor Ag-Con To Change Dates, Location For 2021

Co-Location With The NGA Show Shifts to 2022 Edition

(FEBRUARY 8, 2021 ) — With safety in mind, the Indoor Ag-Con management team has made the decision to push the dates for its previously announced May 16-18, 2021 agriculture trade show and conference for the indoor and vertical farming industry to the third quarter of 2021. The decision is in keeping with The NGA Show | National Grocers Association decision to shift its show — which was previously scheduled to run concurrently at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas — to the third quarter as well. While venue and space limitations in the Las Vegas marketplace prevent co-location for this later time frame in 2021, the two events will come together in 2022. 

The Indoor Ag-Con team is currently gathering feedback from its board and monitoring leading sources of health information to secure a fall date pattern and convenient venue that ensures a safe, cost-effective show.  The new 2021 dates and location will be announced shortly.  

“The safety of the indoor ag community is our top priority,” explains Brian Sullivan, co-owner, Indoor Ag-Con.  “By moving our event to a Fall 2021 pattern, we’ll be better aligned with the expanding Covid-19 vaccine rollout and growing confidence levels in travel and attendance at live events.  And, looking ahead to 2022, we’re excited to renew our plans to co-locate with The NGA Show and give our audience the incredible opportunity to connect with supermarket and food retail industry professionals.”

“We were very much looking forward to co-locating The NGA Show with Indoor Ag-Con this year and celebrating the synergy between the two events,” said Courtney Muller, chief corporate development and strategy officer with Clarion Events North America.    “Delivering a cross-over resource to help retailers partner with growers in a new way to address supply chain challenges, transparency in food sourcing, and meeting consumer demand will only grow in value until we are able to co-locate the two events in 2022.”

For 2022, Indoor Ag-Con and The NGA Show will co-locate at Caesars Forum Convention Center in Las Vegas , February 27 – March 1, 2022. The NGA Show 2021 edition will be held September 19-21 at Paris Hotel Casino, Las Vegas, NV.

Indoor Ag-Con, launched in 2013, provides exhibitors and attendees with the latest technology and business strategies for growing crops in indoor systems, using hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponics techniques, bringing together growers, investors, chefs, produce buyers, academics, policymakers, industry suppliers and advocates.  The 2021 edition will feature an expanded exhibit floor, new networking opportunities and some of the industry’s top innovators and business leaders leading keynote addresses and participating in a range of  panel discussions.

 

About Indoor Ag-Con
Founded in 2013, Indoor Ag-Con has emerged as the premier trade event for vertical farming | indoor agriculture, the practice of growing crops in indoor systems, using hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic techniques. Its events are crop-agnostic and touch all sectors of the business, covering produce, legal cannabis |hemp, alternate protein and non-food crops. In December 2018, three event industry professionals – Nancy Hallberg, Kris Sieradzki and Brian Sullivan – acquired Indoor Ag-Con LLC,  setting the stage for further expansion of the events globally. More information is at https://indoor.ag.

About The National Grocers Association
The National Grocers Association (NGA) is the national trade association representing the retail and wholesale grocers that comprise the independent sector of the food distribution industry. An independent retailer is a privately owned or controlled food retail company operating a variety of formats. The independent grocery sector is accountable for close to one percent of the nation’s overall economy and is responsible for generating $131 billion in sales, 944,000 jobs, $30 billion in wages and $27 billion in taxes. NGA members include retail and wholesale grocers, state grocers’ associations, as well as manufacturers and service suppliers. For more information about NGA, visiwww.nationalgrocers.org.

 About Clarion Events
Clarion Events (www.US.ClarionEvents.com) produces 37 events across 13 sectors of both trade and consumer events. Clarion Events, which is the U.S. division of Clarion Events UK and backed by The Blackstone Group, has become one of the fastest-growing event companies in the U.S. with aggressive growth through both acquisition and launch. Clarion acquired PennWell in early 2018, bringing four Tradeshow 200 events into the U.S. portfolio and supercharging the already rapid growth. Clarion Events has offices in Trumbull, Conn.; Kennesaw, Ga.; Boca Raton, Fla.; Tacoma, Wash., and Fairlawn, N.J. www.US.ClarionEvents.com