“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
It sure was easy in the olden days if you produced only a handful of plants in your home. It was all manageable by hand and required only manual labor of love. However, expanding to grow commercially today requires thought, strategy, and most importantly, advanced automated technology to grow consistent premium crops and high yields. All are still produced with love but much more efficiently, consistently, and cost-effectively returning better crops and maximum profit. Indoor cultivation is an art. Adding automation is a scientific art backed by plant data.
When you think of automation, are you thinking no humans will be involved?
That’s not true at all; with automation, you’re eliminating the potential of human error in your indoor cultivation process. You’re taking out the inconsistency of hand watering and nutrient application—the manual management of lighting, humidity, CO2, and HVAC. You gain a more comprehensive view of your whole grow operations.
Commercial growers aim for consistency in their crop. The only way to repeat this turn after turn is with automated technology. Allowing growers to dial in their grow cycle with complete control of water and nutrient feed and precise environmental controls to maintain that profile, crop production and quality. Adding automation brings a considerable leap of innovation to your grow operations.
Rivulis has been at the forefront of helping farmers grow for the past 55 years with advanced drip and micro-irrigation technologyand is bringing it indoors, assisting indoor growers indriving consistency and growth for higher yields and premium quality crops.
We offer the most comprehensive product portfolio in the industry with an extensive line of irrigation solutions and end-to-end automation projects for any crop in any climate. Our business is to help you grow bigger, better, and beyond. And we have been perfecting it for over five decades. Our expertise and automation technology can help YOU take your grow to the next level.
Amplify your grow power with Rivulis
Rivulis is the new standard in the industry that will help you push your grow into uncharted territory for premium crop and yield. The Rivulis C8100 precision fertigation system takes the guesswork out of your irrigation and feed programs with a user-friendly controller interface. Growers can easily program customized irrigation and nutrient feed schedules based on the plant’s needs. Giving them the exact amount of water and nutrients needed every time. The system comes with an EC/PH controls, so you can quickly and easily manage nutrient imbalances.
Taking your grow to the next level requires control of the growing environment. The C8100 system base model comes standard with the C4100 Irrigation Controller to manage your irrigation and fertigation needs. Add the C4100 Climate Controller for more control. The C4100 Climate is totally modular and works fantastically well with one, two, four up to an unlimited number of zones. Together, this platform is a powerful system to intelligently manage your indoor commercial grow, from lights, HVAC, CO2, temp/humidity control, and ventilation, all the way to the roots, with custom irrigation and feed programs.
Ready to take your grow to the next level? Visit us at the Indoor Ag-Con and talk to our experts about how to amplify your cultivation power. Find more information at www.rivulis.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!
Indoor Ag-Con 2022 Exhibitor Boll Filter is bringing proven reliability to Indoor Agriculture in the form automatic filtration.
The aquaBoll® and 6.04 are proven in Vertical Farming with over 300 days of maintenance free operation. Filtration rates are available from 10µ-500µ. Each filter is sized and designed based on the customer’s specifications which gives growers complete control of what’s in their nutrient water.
Common debris to be filtered out includes: grow media, plant debris, metallic fines, and pathogens.
Automatic filtration also eliminates the need for disposable media, helping growers reduce landfill waste and meet sustainability goals.
Boll Filters are manufactured at the headquarters in Germany with global subsidiaries supporting local regions.
Since April, a multifunctional robot has been helping to harvest tomatoes in a Westland greenhouse. The robot is the result of the cooperation between greenhouse construction and greenhouse technology company and Indoor Ag-Con 2021 ExhibitorCerthon and Denso, the Japanese automotive technology company that invested in the company last year.
“The robot moves in multiple directions to find the optimum position and route for harvesting. Thanks to smart cameras and lighting, the robot can harvest day and night. In the near future, the harvest robot can also scout the yield and measure the climate and health of the plants, including the functionality to protect from pests and diseases,” the Certhon team reveals.
Last year Certhon announced that a harvesting robot was being tested. The company started working on it right after Denso’s minority investment in Certhon.
The company chose a tomato robot since tomato is a large and popular crop worldwide and there are large growers who can make the necessary investments for this, Edwin Vanlaerhoven, Business Development Director at Certhon indicated at the time.
Edwin Vanlaerhoven, Business Development Director at Certhon shows how the Certhon Harvest Robot detects the fruits and senses which tomatoes are ready for harvesting thanks to advanced vision technology. “The robot shows what we are capable of when we combine smart technology, ambitious people, and horticultural knowledge,” he says.
The robot can detect tomatoes completely independently, cut them and transport them to crates. Deep learning technology makes the robot smarter with every harvest.
Eliminating uncontrollable external factors
“In order to make sure all of tomorrow’s people are fed, the world needs to come up with innovative and smart solutions now. Eliminating uncontrollable external factors such as weather conditions, plague or disease has always been on top of a farmer’s wish list, and for horticulture, the 20th-century greenhouse that counters these threats was a big step forward.”
“Now, with drastic changes happening in climate, demographics, and labor shortages, it’s time to bring the greenhouse system in line with the 21st century. With that objective in mind, the Certhon Harvest Robot is created. The robot simplifies the cultivation process, making the opportunity to grow food accessible to everyone. And this is just the beginning.”
Haruhiko Kato, Chief Technical Officer at Certhon adds: “Each crop is unique and the crops’ condition changes every day. Therefore it is very important that the robot’s motion adapts to any height, direction, and growth speed. By teaching the robot all these skills, we can really change the way we grow.”
The presentation of the robot, with photos and moving images, was preceded by tests at greenhouse company AgriD, the largest greenhouse in Japan. The greenhouse was built by Certhon in cooperation with Denso and Asai Nursery Inc. and is specially equipped for the use of robots.
The coming period will be used to optimize the robot movement in consultation with growers and make it ready for practical introduction.
After tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers will follow, Edwin said last year, because the latter is a very labor-intensive crop. “We are starting in the Netherlands and Canada, in the Leamington region, because of the presence of many advanced growers there.”
When the robot will be ready to actually be put on the market is still unclear. The Certhon Harvest Robot is the company’s first external launch. Curious?
Winnipeg-based Conviron, a leading supplier of controlled environments for plant production, is pleased to announce the award of a major project involving the expansion of Medicago’s vaccine manufacturing facilities in Durham NC. Medicago, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Quebec City, is moving forward in their participation to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by building additional infrastructure for the development and manufacturing of plant-derived vaccines – a process that produces a high volume of vaccine in shorter production timelines.
Located in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, the facility expansion features several customized controlled environmental rooms from Conviron, which are used in the manufacturing process for plant germination and plant expression of virus-like particles. Conviron’s sister company amd Indoor Ag-Con 2021 Exhibitor,Argus Controls, is providing the controls and automation of all the plant-growing spaces in the expanded facility. The decision to use Conviron stemmed from the relationship that started back in 2012, when Conviron first provided plant growth rooms to Medicago’s facility in Quebec.
In an interview with Martin Cash (for the Winnipeg Free Press)¹ a spokeswoman for the company said Medicago hopes to have enough data showing the efficacy and safety of the vaccine by the end of June and then would be able to start production shortly after that.
Cash also had to opportunity to review this topic with John Proven, president of Conviron, who said it’s one of the most important projects for Conviron this year. Proven said Conviron is glad to be part of a Canadian effort to battle the pandemic.
Wilder Fields unveils key component for one of world’s largest vertical farms now under construction in a vacant Super Target in Calumet City
Unique system housed in 22 cleanrooms to yield 25 million plants annually
Calumet City, Ill., August 11, 2021— Today at Wilder Fields, Thaddeus Jones, mayor, City of Calumet City, joined Jake Counne, founder and CEO, Wilder Fields, to officially unveil a proprietary automation system for the indoor vertical farm now under construction in a 135,000-square-foot, vacant Super Target in the city. Using Wilder Fields’ technology, this innovative venture will be one of the world’s largest commercial vertical farms, comprising a fully controlled and automated indoor environment.
When phase one construction is completed in first-quarter 2022, the company will safely grow and harvest dozens of full-flavored, pesticide-free varieties of leafy greens, eventually reaching a yield of up to 25 million plants annually.
“Calumet City is excited to join Wilder Fields in bringing this exciting project to our community,” said Mayor Jones. “Wilder Fields is changing indoor farming for years to come, and I look forward to its success and growth. We are building a world-class community and Wilder Fields is at the head of the pack in helping Calumet City become the leader in world- class businesses that add value to the lives of our residents.”
“Calumet City gets it,” added Counne. “We collaborated for two years before completing the infrastructure and building out the farm. The city has supported us as we wrote the playbook for transforming vacant big-box structures into high-tech farms. Calumet City shares our vision of the positive impact Wilder Fields can have, not only on this community but also on the future of sustainable indoor agriculture.”
Jones and Counne used a giant switch to light up a demonstration model of Wilder Fields’ 20-foot tall grow towers. These proprietary towers will be housed in 22 cleanrooms— each measuring 105,000 cubic feet and containing four towers—that form the basis of Wilder Fields’ system, which employs lean manufacturing principles that disrupt and improve upon previous designs to manage the costs that have bedeviled some attempts at large-scale indoor farming.
In keeping with its commitment to social responsibility, Wilder Fields will use clean energy to power its farm and make efficient use of water purchased from Calumet City.
“Wilder Fields’ dedication to the environment and community goes beyond repurposing buildings,” said Henry Pierce, ComEd senior economic development specialist. “By taking advantage of the ComEd Energy Efficiency program, Wilder Fields saves energy and money that can be used to focus on what matters—sustainably growing food and creating jobs for the community.”
“Wilder Fields did not require re-piping or any other special accommodations,” explained Gerry Surufka, deputy water commissioner for Calumet City. “And thanks to the efficiency of the company’s system, which uses small drips of precisely measured water, we do not anticipate any need to increase the water supply to this former Super Target.” Due to its unique use of technological breakthroughs, Wilder Fields requires 95 percent less water than traditional farming methods.
The Calumet City location is the first commercial-scale Wilder Fields operation, a project currently valued at an estimated $50 million, according to Counne. By using artificial intelligence to apply principles of machine learning to farming, Counne and his visionary team built a system that continually monitors the plants’ health and growing environment, supplying light, water and nutrients as needed while reducing human contact.
“I consider our Wilder Fields team to be true problem-solvers,” said Counne, who focuses on rehabilitating abandoned big-box stores to help revitalize the communities where they are situated. “We take nothing for granted and continue to challenge many of the accepted ways of building and running a vertical farm. We already have engineered some incredibly cost-effective and elegant solutions for some very expensive problems.”
Even as the Calumet City location ramps up to full capacity, Wilder Fields currently produces its tantalizing array of flavorful greens on a smaller scale, available at Dom’s Kitchen & Market and at Local Markets Food in Bucktown.
By early 2022, its produce will be sold at supermarkets and served at restaurants within a 100-mile radius, eliminating the long-distance hauling that affects freshness and curtails shelf life, and reducing Wilder Fields’ carbon footprint. An onsite retail store also will give Calumet City residents and others nearby access to fresh, healthy produce.
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.
The panel of experts explain how an environmental control system can help growers in getting ahead of potential issues with their equipment. In addition, viewers can learn how automated greenhouse control systems can help optimize the equipment to make your processes as consistent and efficient as possible.
Some key topics discussed:
The importance of risk management and planning ahead in the greenhouse for extreme weather seasons/conditions
The relevance of understanding the equipment in your facility to make the most out of it
The impact and benefits of preventative maintenance in your greenhouse
The best time to perform a system audit
How can having a greenhouse automation system can help with preventative maintenance and system audits