Indoor Ag-Con media partner iGrowNews, a prominent news platform renowned for its extensive coverage of industries within the agriculture sector, has launched a new Market Research Division.
This new division provides tailored market research services based on each client’s unique needs and challenges. Leveraging the expansive database they have amassed over the years, iGrow News aims to offer unparalleled insights spanning various industries such as Controlled Environment Agriculture (including Indoor Farming, Vertical Farming, Greenhouses, and Container Farming), Robotics & AI in Agriculture, Crop Nutrition, Crop Protection, Agriculture Machinery & Equipment, Farm Management Software, and Sensors & IoT in Agriculture.
In the age of data-driven decision-making, iGrow News’ decision to launch this division reflects its ongoing commitment to meet the evolving needs of its clients. “We have always strived to bring relevant news and information to our audience. With this new division, we are taking it further by providing actionable insights derived from a deep analysis of our vast industry data. This move positions us as a news platform and a strategic partner for businesses,” says Sepehr Achard, CEO of iGrow News.
The Market Research Division will utilize the latest techniques and methodologies in data analysis to provide actionable market insights, in-depth reports, and strategic recommendations. This will equip clients with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and stay ahead in their respective markets.
iGrow News invites all interested parties needing tailored market research services to reach out and explore how this new initiative can meet their unique needs.
iGrow News is a leading news platform specializing in the agriculture technology sector. They deliver industry news and information, helping professionals stay updated on current trends and developments. With its new Market Research Division, iGrow News is set to offer more personalized services to businesses, contributing to strategic planning and informed decision-making.
As the indoor farming industry continues to grow, the need for profitability remains a significant challenge for commercial growers. AGEYE Technologiesis helping lead the way in automated platform monitoring for vertical farms and greenhouses and CEO Nick Genty provides insight into how they are addressing this challenge, as well as their advancements in AI and machine learning. In this month’s CEO Q&A Nick also talks about AGEYE’s new partnership with HYVE Indoor Farming Systems, their recently announced indoor farm project in Nebraska and future growth plans.
What is one of the biggest challenges facing the indoor farming industry today and how is AGEYE working to address it.
The most significant challenge we see is the need to reach profitability. We’ve all seen the recent headlines of farms shutting down, being delisted, or going through intensely difficult and desperate financial times. We’re starting to see that for many stakeholders, the hype is waning, the honeymoon is over, and investors want to see a return on their investment – or at least a very substantive and believable path to it. For CEA to truly become commercially viable and scalable, farmers need systems and support that help them produce a marketable product in a reasonable timeframe, and with enough margins to see a profit. As an industry, we need to focus more on celebrating the farms that reach profitability and less on how much money has been raised.
How does AGEYE stay ahead of the curve when it comes to advancements in AI and machine learning, and what impact do these technologies have on your monitoring platform?
AI is evolving faster than any other technology we’ve ever seen. Generative AI like ChatGPT can produce an entire screenplay or write the code for a new app in a matter of minutes. However, the current version is already being replaced with an even more powerful version, GPT-4, which is said to be capable of creating full movies from simple text prompts. This massive jump in performance is due to a 10x increase in data parameters used for training. At AGEYE, we believe the future of indoor farming is data-driven, and our commitment to this goal drives everything we do. In 2019 we started training our vision models to detect crop stress. Fast forward to today, and we’ve expanded our AI platform to cover every aspect of an indoor farm. We’re collecting thousands of data points per plant, per cycle, that we aggerate with environment, energy, and labor data to produce powerful insights and unprecedented visibility across an entire operation. We’re empowering growers with the technology and tools they need to become efficient, sustainable, and, most importantly, profitable.
Can you tell us more about the partnership between AGEYE and HYVE Indoor Farming Systems- – How did this collaboration come about and what are the main benefits the partnership will bring to commercial growers?
Our first introduction actually happened at a previous Indoor Ag-Con. There are a lot of moving parts in this industry, and things change so rapidly. It’s easy to be sucked in by what might turn out to be smoke and mirrors, but there was something about our initial meeting with HYVE that led us to believe there was substance backed by significance and passion.
The combination of automation, crop intelligence, exceptional hardware and lighting – it all seemed like it was there. It was evident that we both had tangible evidence and proof of concept for what we could do on our own, but more importantly, together. Collaboration has often been a theme in this industry and we could see early on that we complemented each other well in areas where one might not be as strong as the other. We both had experiences apart and we shared and leveraged those experiences on an early trial project together. This project proved to us both that we really felt that the sum of our parts was greater than what it should have been – almost like adding 1 + 1 to get 3.
For our customers and prospects, the main benefits are just immense. We believe that we have a revolutionary turnkey system that combines the absolute best in hardware, lighting, infrastructure, software, and AI controls and monitoring. These are some very tangible attributes. What we also think is a huge benefit is our flexibility in what we do. We have scalable systems and feel invested in the commercial farmer as if it were our own money. We see a pathway to profitability for the commercial farmers we work with by being a ‘right-sized’ entity with experience to back what we say we can do. Our methodology removes much of the guesswork and mitigates some of the risks that growers encounter. It’s really an exciting time to be invested together in a partnership where we share such diverse talent sets, system integrity, and vision for what indoor farming can become.
What challenges do you anticipate in building the new indoor farm in Nebraska, and how will AGEYE work with HYVE to overcome them?
There are some very fundamental challenges that come with any installation, and while each installation is a bit different, many things we see are common. In the Nebraska installation, we will be retrofitting an existing building. This is quite common. One could argue that an optimal vertical farm would be created in a building specifically designed for vertical farming because everything from airflow to automation and intelligence would fit perfectly into a well-designed and very intentional space. This removes some of the challenges of altering what can sometimes seem like a square peg that needs to be implemented into a round hole. But, realistically speaking, there are real benefits to also retrofitting an existing building. We’re good enough at understanding what has to happen to know if it can successfully happen. A perfect building might be beyond the reach of many people who want to enter vertical indoor farming, while an existing space might mean that someone doesn’t need tens of millions of dollars to set up a successful indoor commercial farm. Repurposing buildings has an inherent appeal in that you are taking something that could be non-productive and turning it into something very productive at a cost point that makes sense for the owner and can create something beneficial in terms of actual production or job creation.
One of the very essential things we seek to do is to create a system that can produce a saleable product for our customers each and every day in a cost-effective way. The process has to be repeatable and successful. Profitability is always the challenge and without good market data and an efficient distribution methodology that includes an understanding of the market, there isn’t a way to get there. We’re not in the business of just selling equipment so that people fail. For this reason, we will be assisting the client in Nebraska with some expertise in understanding the market opportunities. We will help them look at the product mix and provide relevant data that puts them on a path to see a return on their investment.
Looking ahead, what other types of project or collaborations do you see as possibilities for AGEYE and HYVE and how do you envision your partnership evolving in the future?
AGEYE and HYVE are both really good at very distinct and yet dissimilar things that together can produce great results. One of the things we talked about even early on was how we were both so innovative and solutions-based, which we highlight in our joint tagline of ‘Matched Innovation. Unmatched Solutions.’ We believe that together we can offer solutions that others really can’t, and much of it is not only the very real and measurable tangible evidence of our quality and system intelligence but also the passion and knowledge of the people involved.
Looking forward HYVE will include the AGEYE platform as a very critical and integrated piece of the puzzle for growers. We’ll look at each individual project and see where the marriage of automated functionality and artificial intelligence makes both logistical and financial sense for the grower and our respective companies.
We also will likely look at each respective strength and ability in the stand-alone entities. For instance, it might make sense for one entity to capitalize on technical support from the other because of specific expertise that resides within a certain sector. We truly believe that at the end of the day, our common mission is about creating a system that makes the most sense for the grower in an economic and qualitative sense.
Take one step into any indoor agriculture convention or expo and you will immediately see how the industry has transformed over the past several decades. With new products and devices that claim to solve each and every problem you may have, from drones running your IPM to AI software managing climate controls, the options and solutions can seem to be endless. As a new grower or even a seasoned grower, how can you make the best decision on what to invest in, or what to avoid? What trends should you buy into and what trends are just that, trends? Who can you trust when it comes to the advice you get from sellers, vendors and manufacturers? While there may be no straight forward answer to those questions there are some key concepts to help you navigate through making those decisions.
Know Your Partners
First and foremost, know your partners! Create lasting partnerships with service providers and brands that you trust, as they will be pivotal to prolonged success. CropKing has been in the controlled environment agriculture industry for 40+ years, developing hydroponic systems, manufacturing greenhouses and advising our customers as they build their operations. Be diligent when creating relationships with the companies you work with. Ask questions, look for reviews or references and examine their history. You want to know they have your best interests in mind, are reliable, have a good reputation in the industry, and aren’t going to sell you something and then disappear. While every good salesperson’s job is to sell you something, a great salesperson will only sell you what you need.
Know What You Don’t Know
It’s easy to be sold a product or technology that you don’t need if you don’t have enough knowledge about the topic. If you’re looking into a new fertilizer program, brush up on your water chemistry skills. It may be beneficial to attend plant nutrition courses which can often be found online from reputable sources. Reach out to your product suppliers or manufactures and ask if they offer onsite training or troubleshooting. If you’re looking into a new technology, ask for references. Visit the facility if possible and get firsthand feedback from other growers.
Keep in mind if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. In the digital age there are countless companies out there with flashy advertising, well put together websites and promotional marketing, and while that can often be a sign of a reputable company it isn’t necessarily always the case. Experience, proven track record and integrity are the cornerstones of a fruitful working relationship. There is no magic elixir or elite piece of equipment that will guarantee your plants success. Don’t be afraid to ask hard hitting questions of your sales representatives. If they cite studies or provide performance numbers, ask to see the data. Check if the information has been verified by third party testing. Ask about the mainstream view on the product or service and finally ask yourself if the product is the best option for your situation. For example, running supplemental CO2 can have dramatic positive effects on the health and growth rates of your plants, so fitting your environment with CO2 can be a great idea. However not every case is the same, for a sealed indoor grow facility CO2 can be a great option, for a greenhouse that exchanges fresh air every few minutes CO2 is not very effective at all.
When talking to experts, look for someone with a track record of success in controlled environment agriculture. Not every project is the same, not every need is the same, and not every solution is the same. At the end of the day the number one driving factor in what you invest in will lie in the specifics of your operation. Does a 5,000 sqft greenhouse need an IPM drone? No. For a greenhouse of that size, IPM is best done with a skilled worker that is well-trained and efficient with the task at hand. A much larger operation with acres of field crops to monitor may find the use of a drone more practical. Keep in mind what you may gain in speed and convenience, you may lack in quality or precision. All these factors must be weighed out. Should a five-acre greenhouse be watering by hand? Again, the answer is most likely no. In some cases, your improvements may lead to both financial savings and better quality and precision. Hand watering 20,000 plants every day is not only a large labor draw, but it also leaves room for inconsistencies and errors. Switching to an automated fertigation system is almost always a better option. Your labor can be decreased by as much as 90%, along with water savings and overall better control of your fertigation and plant health.
Lowering the cost of production is one of the goals of efficiency. This can be a result of lowering labor costs, decreasing energy bills, or increasing yields and lowering water usage. If you’re looking for efficiency, carefully consider each scenario with thought and foresight. If a $20k climate control unit can save you 30% on your annual heating costs, is it worth it? The short answer is that It depends on your heating costs. Is a $400/gallon nutrient additive that gains you 3% increase in yield worth it? Again, it depends on what that 3% of extra yield is worth minus any additional labor or inputs to apply the product. While this seems intuitive, you only need to look at the recent rash of closures and bankruptcies to see that it maybe isn’t as intuitive as it seems. Efficient and profitable growing operations get by with as little as they need to accomplish what they want. This is done to save money, but also to remain simple in operation. A simple process is one way to decrease labor costs, and it is also easy to replicate and train on.
One of the biggest mistakes a grower can make is to implement too many changes at once. A reputable industry partner will assist you in developing that plan, bringing their experience to help you avoid costly mistakes or over-investment. For example, you may not want to implement a new fertilizer program at the same time as a new lighting schedule goes into effect. You may see a positive move from your crop, but you also lose the ability to know which had more impact, the fertilizer or lighting schedule. Same goes for plant nutrition. If you apply four different foliar sprays, how will you know which one was more effective? Proper data should always be collected when any new changes take place.
By building relationships with experienced industry companies and service providers, you can avoid the pitfalls of business that result in closures, bankruptcies and even lawsuits. A reputable partner like CropKing will help you identify the technologies, growing systems, and structures that will fit your needs and goals, while also helping you weed through the trendy companies with no staying potential.
Paul Brentlinger is a second generation owner of CropKing Inc and has 20+ years of experience working with controlled environment agriculture growers all over the world.He has studied best-of-breed controlled environment and hydroponic practices across the globe to apply the most efficient and cost-effective practices into optimal systems for CropKing customers.Paul leads the CropKing teams in consulting, sales and management, providing solutions for growers in the produce & cannabis spaces.
“This edition of CEA 4.0 will focus on the current evolution of the indoor farming industry to explore how policy is developing with its integration into the sector, how we are helping to drive the circular economy forward, sustainability, integration into traditional food systems, and learning how this is being done from an international perspective. From a technological aspect we will be focusing on seeds and their development, TCEA, grow light solutions, resource efficiencies, automation, energy usage and requirements, innovations in research and technologies, and robotics & AI,” according to Jonathan Martin, director, Tech 4.0.
As part of our event partnership, our Indoor Ag-Con audience is invited to take advantage of a special VIP upgrade. You can register for the current lowest price of £4.99 and you’ll be upgraded manually to a VIP attendee which includes:
Full conference & event access provided for the entire event
Instant messaging and 1-1 video networking with any attendee
Ability to arrange 1-1 video meetings with any attendee
Access to recordings of event presentations
Customizable company & attendee profiles with various multimedia content options
How Tech In Farming Can Build A Resilient Food System
AppHarvest Founder and CEO Jonathan Webb will lead the Indoor Ag-Con keynote presentation, “How Tech In Farming Can Build A Resilient Food System,” on Monday, February 28, 2022 from 11:00 am – 11:50 am. A headliner event at the February 28 – March 1, 2022 edition of the trade show and conference for the indoor|vertical farming industry at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas, Webb’s discussion will focus on what needs to be done to truly fix the world’s food system. And that, according to Webb, is the Farm of the Future, which he is creating at AppHarvest by investing in robotics, artificial intelligence and tele-operation, while developing the types of technologies that were required for Amazon to transform retail.
Themed “Growing Your Business,” Indoor Ag-Con will give attendees the opportunity to explore new resources on the expo floor and hear from Webb, other CEOs, thought leaders and industry experts from today’s cutting-edge farms and other innovative companies.
During his keynote presentation, Webb will dive deep into what new technologies can deliver quality produce with safe, more efficient growing methods– which is good for all stakeholders — and how AppHarvest’s AI and robotic technology allows the company to make data-driven decisions on plant health, productivity and better predict crop yield.
Webb will also discuss how AppHarvest is bringing these technologies to market with its TechCo business, which is expected to serve the entire controlled environment agriculture sector.
Jonathan Webb is the Founder & CEO of AppHarvest, a sustainable foods company developing and operating some of the world’s largest high-tech indoor farms to build an efficient food system.
Before founding AppHarvest, he spent years developing massive solar projects for the U.S. Department of Defense. During this time, Webb learned about the Netherlands’ modern, tech-forward system of hydroponic agriculture. This research, coupled with reports that global food production would need to nearly double by 2050 and news of expanding drought and wildfire across the country, led him to realize that the American food system required change – fast.
He returned home to Kentucky to start AppHarvest. Jonathan knew that, by harnessing the best of nature’s capabilities with future-forward technology to grow delicious produce at scale, we could tackle systemic supply chain issues while also advocating for modern methods of sustainable farming. He also knew that AppHarvest could reduce environmentally costly diesel emissions incurred during the shipping process by locating closer to consumers, all while delivering more reliably fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Learn more about Jonathan Webb and his Indoor Ag-Con keynote session here.
“Jonathan Webb’s vision for the future of agriculture and the steps he is taking with AppHarvest to get there are inspiring and exciting, “ says Brian Sullivan, partner/owner, Indoor Ag-Con LLC .”We are thrilled to have him join the Indoor Ag-Con keynote stage in February and know our audience will be eager to hear from him.”
ROBUST 2022 CONFERENCE SCHEDULE NOW IN DEVELOPMENT Webb’s presentation joins the Indoor Ag-Con 2022 CEO keynote line-up, which also includes the opening morning kick-off session with Steve Platt, CEO, BrightFarms and Steven Bradley, VP, Cox Cleantech, Cox Enterprises. Look for additional announcements coming soon on other headliner keynote presentations planned for the February edition. The 2022 conference will also include a full roster of panel discussions offering a deep dive into three core tracks – Grower, Business & Technology.
Attendees will find more new initiatives and show highlights to explore in February, including:
CO-LOCATION WITH NATIONAL GROCERS ASSOCATION SHOW New for 2022, Indoor Ag-Con will co-locate with the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show, the leading trade show and conference for independent grocers, offering even more networking and business opportunities for attendees and exhibitors alike. The NGA Show and Indoor Ag-Con visitors will have access to all exhibits, and discounts will be available for cross-over educational event attendance. Look for more details coming soon.
EXPANDED EXHIBIT FLOOR 2022 will also welcome the largest expo floor yet for Indoor Ag-Con. From irrigation and LED lighting to environmental control systems, substrates, greenhouse equipment, energy solutions, business services and more, attendees will have the chance to see the latest introductions and innovations from some of the biggest names in the business, as well as emerging leaders.
MORE NETWORKING Exhibitors and attendees can enjoy complimentary luncheons on the show floor each day, a show floor cocktail reception, breakout sessions and other opportunities to reconnect with friends and meet new business partners.
QUICK FACTS: WHEN: Monday, Feb. 28 – Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2022
WHERE: Caesars Forum, 3911 Koval Lane, Las Vegas, NV 89101 INFO: For information on exhibiting or attending visit www.indoor.ag or email firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT INDOOR AG-CON LLC 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:https://indoor.ag
ABOUT APPHARVEST AppHarvest is an applied technology company in Appalachia developing and operating some of the world’s largest high-tech indoor farms designed to grow non-GMO, chemical pesticide-free produce, using up to 90 percent less water than open-field agriculture and only rainwater while producing yields up to 30 times that of traditional agriculture on the same amount of land without agricultural runoff. The company combines conventional agricultural techniques with world-class technology including artificial intelligence and robotics to improve access for all to nutritious food, farming more sustainably, building a domestic food supply, and increasing investment in Appalachia. The company’s 60-acre Morehead, KY facility is among the largest indoor farms in the world. For more information, visithttps://www.appharvest.com/.
Last month, Italy’s Planet Farms officially opened its new farm in Cavenago, just outside Milan. Described as the largest and most advanced vertical farm in Europe, the operation is the brainchild of Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Luca Travaglini and Daniele Benatoff.
Friends since childhood, Travaglini and Benatoff’s company emerged from the duo’s shared passion to break through traditional agriculture, and is grounded in their Italian roots and focused on food quality and flavor. Indoor Ag-Con had the chance to learn more about their vision, goals and plans for the future in this month’s CEO Q&A.
Congratulations on the recent opening of your new farm in Cavenago. What makes your new facility different and unique from others?
Our union of world-class technology and the best of Italian agricultural tradition offers a concrete, scalable answer to the need for agronomic products that are healthy, high quality, low environmental impact, available all year round, and affordable for everyone. With its fully integrated supply chain, a seed comes in and a finished product goes out. We offer a virtuous system of food production that ensures food safety and protects against sudden climatic shocks that could compromise regular food supply and product quality.
Where some farms focus on the highest yield at the lowest cost, Planet Farms puts emphasis on flavor first. Can you share more around that philosophy and how you’re working with chefs to help promote your product?
We are proud of our partnership with the Cerea brothers, owners of the 3 Michelin® Star restaurant Da Vittorio, in Brusaporto, near Bergamo. The collaboration started in 2020 during the pandemic, when we donated our products to the Bergamo hospital’s canteen which was managed by the Cerea brothers. They got to try our produce then and were so impressed by its authentic and fresh flavor that the idea of a partnership took form. That road led us to the construction of a Vertical Farm in Brusaporto to supply fresh products directly to the starred restaurant. We became two partners united by a common vision: bringing unique flavor and quality in everything we do. These are just some of the ingredients of this unique gastronomic experience that has developed into a true friendship between our organizations.
Sustainability is a key part of your mission – can you share some of Planet Farms sustainable practices and initiatives ?
Sustainability is the point of departure and the very essence of Planet Farms across every dimension: environmental, social, and economic. We designed our supply chain system to be life-giving and cyclical, to maximize the abundance of harvests while minimizing energy consumption and waste of any kind. In Planet Farms’ facilities, the water and minerals not absorbed by crops are reintegrated and recirculated into the system reducing water consumption by over 95% compared to traditional farming and production processes. Multi-level farming saves more than 90% of the soil promoting biodiversity, local ecosystems and topsoil restoration. Beyond cultivating produce that respects the environment and human health, Planet Farms is among the first in ready-to-eat salads to use FSC® paper packaging, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for sustainably sourced, recyclable materials.
In 2019, together with our partners Signify, 255 and Sirti, we took part in the LIFE Program, the European Union’s key tool to support sustainable businesses protecting nature and the environment.
We presented our innovative production system and explained how it allows us to save an enormous amount of water. This and many other cutting edge aspects of our company led to our selection among many other major projects. This award meant that we received funding to achieve our ambitious sustainability goals through our Vertical Farm in Cavenago near Milan.
Tell us about what you are growing currently and if you have plans to add new crops or varieties.
Our crops grow naturally, thanks to light, water, air and minerals, but without exposure to stress caused by bad weather, excessive heat, parasites, pathogenic micro-organisms or competition with weeds. We currently have four different products; a baby blond lettuce called Lattugood and three different mixes called: Oriental Yummix, Spicy Yummix and Delicate Yummix. Our range is constantly expanding so stay tuned for more exciting launches!
Can you tell us a little about your AI system, Gaia VF
“Gaia VF” is a system for monitoring vegetable growth that generates a constant data flow for analysis, permitting the development of an increasingly ideal environment around the crops and improving production with each cycle. It is at the core of everything we do and analyses and optimizes every step in our automated process.
What’s next for Planet Farms?-
There are a lot of activities in the pipeline. With the huge amount of requests for our products we have to expand across Italy, so in the coming year we will build a facility twice the size of Cavenago. That same design will be used for the expansion across Europe in 2022. Next to that we are already trialing new crops to be added to the portfolio in the near future; these range from new mixes and specialty leaves to fruiting crops. We are expanding our research facilities as well, so we will also make our way into the B2B segment, growing crops for ingredients, compounds and raw material optimization.
This is just the start for us, we want the world to experience the differentiation our product range brings to the table!
Headquartered 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:
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?
Not 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!
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.
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
Adam Greenberg founded iUNU (pronounced “you knew”) in 2013 to revolutionize the greenhouse industry by using machine vision technology. In less than eight years, he is well on the way.
The Seattle-based company’s LUNA AI platform uses computer vision to monitor crop growth. LUNA delivers a system of mobile and fixed cameras with high-definition imaging and environmental sensors that measure and record everything down to the real-time growth rate of each plant. The software combines computer vision and machine learning technologies to continuously build detailed models of individual plants, unique among millions, throughout the day. What’s more, LUNA helps growers manage this information so they can be more productive and efficient – automating tracking, helping scout, and refining forecasts & planning.
Q.What makes LUNA different from other greenhouse | indoor grower AI platforms on the market today?
We play in that nebulous gray zone connecting between ERP companies and control systems, but we’re not competing with any of them. Everyone has their control system vendor. We’re striving to be the trusted machine vision vendor. To us, it’s less about competition and marketing and more about how and where we fit in when it comes to helping customers solve problems and drive value.
Growers spend a lot of time keeping track of plants with manual data collection – walking up and down rows, noting issues on an ipad, and putting flags down to mark problems. Given the scale some growers must deal with, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks. Forecasting presents an even bigger challenge that oftentimes ends up as a combination of best guesses and constant fine-tuning. During planning, issuing a single change order can take up to a week as the team works though that excel document. We aim to solve all these challenges with the clarity that comes from a quantifiable, data-driven process that takes the guesswork out of growing.
Q. Looking at our Indoor Ag-Con audience — which includes greenhouse growers as well as indoor |vertical farm growers — does your technology meet the needs for all these environments?
Our platform is being used by growers in all indoor categories, including vertical, greenhouses and grow rooms. In fact, vertical farm inquiries are our number one area of interest – from large to small operations – followed by interest from commercial scale greenhouses. The issue is that vertical farming is, perhaps, one of the most NDA-covered categories – to the point that operations could be located right next door to one another and not even know it. As a result, we are not able to share examples of some of our clients and successes in this space.
Q. Cost is a key component to any indoor farm. Please share some idea of the cost spectrum when one considers the implementation of any AI technology system within an indoor farm.
LUNA is a SaaS model where clients make recurring payments. As the camera vision captures images while riding around the greenhouse/indoor farm, it sends those images to LUNA’s data collection point where it is translated onto an app the grower can access on a cellphone or laptop. There are multiple pixels per millimeter and each photo and every single pixel is collected and analyzed. That leads to recurring costs and ongoing analysis. The more passes the camera makes, the costs are adjusted accordingly. Each customer — and each order iUNU gets from these customers — is unique. The iUNU team essentially acts as a semi-autonomous horticultural consultant as we recommend the number of passes needed to meet a grower’s goals and needs. This can range from a single daily pass for a grower seeking to find problems with chlorosis or mildew up to 8-10 passes a day for that grower who is a voracious consumer of data.
When it comes to budgeting for AI technology, I think we can learn from other industries. We follow the process of manufacturing where between 4-5% of industrial process automation goes to software, which has gone up to 7-8% today. I encourage clients to dedicate 4-7% of their budget to those things that will help improve processes and scale up.
Q: What’s Next for iUNU
I’d say there are three key areas of focus for us:
—Helping scale the industry to meet demand: We want to offer tools that help growers do more with less. In North America, for example, the greenhouse fruit and vegetable market is growing more than 20 percent annually. As greenhouses expand, they face labor shortages and challenges. We are focusing on ways to make indoor growing operations more profitable and efficient.
–API: Companies that cannot work with other companies will be replaced by other companies. I think any company that does not offer API (Application Programming Interface) will lose. We must connect all growing and operating tools together for the benefit of the grower.
–Food Safety: We want to significantly contribute to the continued push for food safety through our data collection. Food safety has become increasingly important to both consumers and the FDA.
Q. When it comes to AI, what is keeping you up at night?
I think there’s a general misconception when it comes to AI. It’s really nothing more than a buzz word for statistical analysis. People do not always understand this and think AI is something to be afraid of. When companies say they sell AI, it’s like saying ‘I’m selling the Cloud’ or ‘I’m selling API.’ In reality, AI is simply commoditized statistical learning. There is just so much marketing noise in the sector that it’s often hard to find the signal. Hopefully within 5 years the signal will become more pronounced so people can really hear it and understand it.
There is a lot of opacity in the sector today. The focus needs to be on companies that drive value and truly focus on the customer needs. Show value to the industry, your happy customers will handle the rest for you.
Committee of Industry Leaders From Indoor Agriculture, Grocery, Specialty Food, Commercial Real Estate, Hemp, Other Sectors To Provide Guidance, Insights To Help Shape 2021 Exposition & Conference
LAS VEGAS (December 15, 2020) – Indoor Ag-Con, the premier trade show for the indoor agriculture | vertical farming industry, announces the formation of its inaugural advisory board. Bringing together industry leaders from across the agriculture supply chain – from indoor farming to grocers to commercial real estate – the new board will advise and help shape the educational conference and exhibition floor offerings of the 2021 edition of Indoor Ag-Con and other new initiatives planned for the coming year.
“As we look at the challenges and opportunities the Covid-19 crisis has brought to live events and indoor agriculture, it’s more important than ever that we work with a group of recognized thought leaders in the industry to act as our Advisory Board to guide us in the right direction as we plan our 2021 event,” said Nancy Hallberg, co-owner, Indoor Ag-Con.
“Taking this a step further, we wanted our board to include leaders from key industry sectors that drive and intersect with indoor agriculture, like grocery business, commercial real estate, alternative crops and others,” adds Brian Sullivan, co-owner, Indoor Ag-Con. “For 2021, successful indoor agriculture business development strategies will be the primary focus for our event. The insights and intelligence we’ll gather from these successful leaders of indoor agriculture, as well as a number of the sectors our attendees and exhibitors hope to do business with, will go a long way in shaping meaningful content, networking and exhibition opportunities.”
Samuel Bertram, CEO | Co-Founder, OnePointOne, Inc. Julie Emmett, Senior Director, Retail Partnerships Plant Based Foods Association Greg Ferrara, President & CEO, National Grocers Association Henry Gordon Smith, CEO & Managing Director, Agritecture Marni Karlin, Executive Director, CEA Food Safety Coalition Tracy Lee, Division Lead, CEA Department, Sakata Seed Company Jody McGinness, Executive Director, Hemp Industries Association Tim McGuinness,Sterling Advisory Group & Former SVP, International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Chris Nemchek, President , Coach Global Solutions & Former SVP, Specialty Food Association Matt Roy,Vice President of Business Development Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), Tanimura & Antle E. Austin Webb, CEO & Co-Founder, Fifth Season, Powered By Robotany Nona Yehia,CEO | Co-Founder ,Vertical Harvest
For 2021, Indoor Ag-Conwill co-locate with The National Grocers Association (NGA) Show, the leading trade show and conference for independent grocers. The combined event will be held at the new Caesars Forum Convention Center in Las Vegas from May 16-18, 2021. The NGA Show and Indoor Ag-Con visitors will have access to all exhibits, and discounts will be available for cross-over educational event attendance.
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 , so setting the stage for further expansion of the events globally. More information:https://indoor.ag
What’s in a name? For brothers Samuel and John Bertram, it signifies nothing short of a desire to improve the human condition by revolutionizing agriculture through automated indoor farming. Their company, OnePointOne,is on a mission to nourish and heal humanity by unleashing the power of plants.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, the duo came to the US in the 2010s on collegiate tennis scholarships. Over the years, they honed skills off the court– including electrical, mechanical and robotic engineering — and began searching for business opportunities that could affect large-scale, positive changes on human health, the environment and agriculture.
Galvanized by the fact that 1.1 billion people began this millennium malnourished, Samuel and John co-founded OnePointOne, Inc. in 2017. Serving as a constant reminder of what they’re aiming to solve, aptly named OnePointOne has developed an automated, aeroponic, indoor farming system to grow fresh food in urban areas around the world. OnePointOne’s proprietary technology now powers Willo, the company’s new consumer brand, which launched earlier this year. Willo’s Farming as a Service (FaaS) subscription model is designed to reconnect people and families directly to the farm and the initial response has exceeded all expectations.
When one thinks of AI for indoor agriculture, what are some of the key areas of need that indoor growers have today?
AI refers to the developing ability for machines to replicate human decision-making and behavior. That said, areas for useful AI development include:
Plant Health – Using AI to determine the health status of any plant by comparing large—predominantly imagery—data sets against in-situ imagery: disease detection, photosynthetic health, etc.
System Monitoring – Beyond direct sensor readings, large data sets of factors like CO2, fluid flow, fluid pressure, temperature, and others, can be used to determine more anomalous malfunctions of the system
System Optimization– Large data sets describing the life experience of the plant, i.e. light levels, temperatures, and humidity, can be used to improve the performance of the system to any cultivar.
By taking in large quantities of data from a variety of environmental, system and plant sensors, AI techniques can be applied to optimize performance of the vertical farming system and assist growers in their role as farm operator. While traditional sensor readings like temperature, humidity and flow rate are vital, plant imagery is a requirement to unlock AI’s power in vertical farming. Without high-frequency, high-resolution, hyper-spectral imagery of all plants in vertical farm production, the vertical farming industry will never reach its full potential. OnePointOne has focused heavily on collecting, analyzing and providing that imagery data to our growers.
It’s important to note that while AI can handle far more data than a human being, humans are still superior when it comes to complex decision-making in most cases. Therefore, AI should be focused on deriving learnings from massive data sets, informing growers of those learnings, and unlocking the potential of the system and the grower.
Cost is a critical component to any indoor farm operating, hopefully, profitably. Please share some idea of the cost spectrum (low to high) when one considers the implementation of ANY AI technology system within an indoor farm.
I would break this down as follows:
1. Labor is the highest operating expense cost inside of a vertical farm. Therefore, vertical farms must optimize their utilization of labor. 2. After automating processes like seeding, plant movement, and plant harvest/packaging, vertical farms must solve the problem of system and plant monitoring costs. 3. If system and plant monitoring become automated, high-skilled labor can be centralized. 4. Centralizing high-skilled labor dramatically improves the cost and scalability metrics of vertical farming. 5. Without high-frequency, high-resolution, hyper-spectral imagery of all plants within a production system, centralization of high-skilled labor cannot occur. 6. Without this significant improvement in labor utilization, vertical farms will continue to struggle for profitability.
The highest-impact application of AI in vertical farming is through the analysis of environmental, system and plant-imagery data-points and their corresponding impact on plant yield and quality.
Then, AI can “automatically” improve the quality and yield of biomass, while optimizing the use of resources, i.e., light, HVAC and irrigation.
Optimizing the usage of electrons for lighting, temperature and humidity control is the perfect job for AI. This will dramatically improve the economics of vertical farming over time.
You are a Bronco from the University of Santa Clara. How can higher education, top horticulture universities and R&D institutions help accelerate AI technology in indoor vertical farming?
I see three clear ways these institutions can help:
1. Cultivating high-quality minds that will push our industry forward 2. Conducting vast numbers of experiments to develop AI algorithms to detect optimal and suboptimal plant health (potentially high-throughput phenotyping, for example) 3. Licensing state-of-the-art vertical farming technology to standardize production in pursuit of standardizing data
Given OnePointOne’s location in the heart of the Silicon Valley, are you seeing any large tech firms getting involved with AI for indoor horticulture? If so, who?
Absolutely. Two come immediately to mind:
Google is diving deep into imagery-data analysis for outdoor farms. It is only a matter of time before they venture into the vertical farming space.
Amazon (AWS) has developed several teams and tools that can assist vertical farms in their storage and analysis of data.
What are some of the AI advancements OnePointOne is focused on now?
Imagery, imagery, imagery. Similar to Tesla, high-frequency, high-resolution, hyper-spectral imagery data sets from production and research farms will give OnePointOne a sustainable competitive advantage. Beyond real-time image analysis — like leaf-edge detection, discoloration detection and discontinuity detection, etc — large imagery data sets will drive system optimization unlike anything else. With enough imagery data, software models of plants can be created, then used in production settings to ensure optimal plant performance.
Above all else, OnePointOne is focused on plant-quality. Employing AI to our imagery data allows us to constantly improve the quality of our plants, while minimizing the required input resources.
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about this year’s launch of your consumer brand Willo. What was the rationale behind this subscription model and what type of response has it received?
For ten thousand years farming was local and provided a diverse range of nutrients for the community. Today, we have no idea where our food is coming from and we are losing the nourishment battle. Willo exists to reconnect us to the farm and ensure that we are nourished by the highest quality foods imaginable.
Willo’s mission is enabling personalized plant-based nutrition to optimize human and environmental health. We achieve this through Willo’s personalized farming service, which allows members to control their own farm plot and regain access to locally grown, high quality produce unlike ever before.
Within a matter of weeks of our launch, Willo sold out the first farm. We are now in the process of building a farm ten times larger to accommodate the building waitlist for our personalized farming service.