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Tag: Coronavirus

Produce Trends & Business Opportunities In the Covid Crisis

Indoor Ag-Con kicked off its Indoor Ag-Conversations webinar series in June 2020 . Partnering with United Fresh , we hosted a webinar addressing produce trends & business opportunities in the Covid crisis.  Moderated by United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel, the panel included Paul Lightfoot, CEO and founder of BrightFarms, Alex DiNovo, president and COO of DNO Produce, and Victor Verlage, senior director of Agriculture Strategy Development at Walmart.

Kate Spirgen, editor of Garden Center, Greenhouse Management & Produce Grower magazines penned a terrific recap.  In it, she outlined five key takeaways from the panel touching on produce trends and business opportunities in the Covid crisis:

1. Berries are big on the horizon.

Panelists agreed that berries will be among the next hot items in CEA since growers can provide tastier options with longer shelf lives than conventional farms. “How variable is a strawberry’s taste when it’s conventional?” DiNovo asked. “You can have one that tastes fantastic and you can have one that tastes like dirt. You can have the same flavorful berry without Mother Nature wreaking havoc on it.”

Highly perishable items with complex supply chains are ripe for disruption, panelists said.

“What we’re interested in is beyond the shelf life, we want home life for the customers,” Verlage said. “We don’t want them to waste produce because it goes bad quickly.”

2. Create value by standing out.

From a marketing standpoint, DiNovo said indoor agriculture operations shouldn’t fight a conventional battle. By creating new names for products and branding them to stand out, growers can change the game.

“Create its own value by calling it something else,” he said. “If you call it by a conventional name, you’re going to compete on a conventional price basis.”  The coronavirus has impacted everything from supply chains to shopping habits.

 3. COVID-19 has increased consumers’ desire to keep money local.

DiNovo said the economic impact of the coronavirus has led to a greater demand to keep money in the local economy.  this is true whether it’s spending inside the community or providing jobs.
“That’s what local means to me more than anything else — it’s local impact,” he said.

4. Labor and supply chain concerns could lead to opportunities.

Lightfoot said he sees an opportunity to promote safety due to a smaller supply chain.  He added   that the current salad industry has seen issues with safety in the recent past.

“One farm’s contamination could have a bigger impact since more products are coming into contact with each other,” he said, stating that a longer supply chain makes tracking more difficult. “Those structural challenges don’t exist in our model as they do in the incumbent supply chain model.”

Creating new names and brands for products can help your CEA operation stand out in the marketplace. The year-round nature of indoor agriculture could also give CEA operations a leg up on labor.

Farm labor shortages, which he said have worsened due to the current administration’s policies on labor and immigration, have only been made more difficult by COVID-19. Housing and transportation have left farm employees more vulnerable to the disease.

“When this is over, borders will probably be less open, not more, so this issue will probably become worse,” he said.

“That’s what local means to me more than anything else — it’s local impact,” said Alex DiNovo, president and COO of DNO Produce.   CEA operations are better equipped to control entry to facilities.  And, year-round labor provides more stability in the workforce.

5. Retailers are looking for the right size solution for their stores.

Verlage said Walmart is looking for ways to mix big and smaller growers since different growers will bring solutions better suited to different communities.

“We are trying to figure out what is the right size project for the demand we face in different stores,” he said. “It has to be affordable, good nutritious food so that we can help everyone enjoy healthy food.”

The full session covering produce trends & business opportunities  in the Covid crisis was recorded and you can watch it here!

Coronavirus Pandemic Highlights Vital Need for Vertical Farms In World Cities

Coronavirus Pandemic Highlights Vital Need for Vertical Farms in World Cities

by Dr. Joel Cuello, Ph.D.
Coronavirus Pandemic Highlights Vital Need for Vertical Farms  in World Cities
Image modified from Martin Sanchez/Unsplash

The speed with which the coronovirus outbreaks in Asia, Europe and North America metastasized into a full-blown global pandemic — catching many world governments by surprise and with little preparation — underscores just how our world today is highly interconnected and how, in order to contain and stem the surging pandemic, temporary disconnection from the physically-networked world by cities, regions and even entire nations has become an urgent imperative.

With confirmed coronavirus cases globally now exceeding 370,000 and the number of deaths surpassing 16,000, many world cities have become throbbing epicenters of the surging pandemic.

Accordingly, various countries, states and cities have enforced lockdown or stay-at-home orders with drastic measures, including banning public gatherings, restricting restaurants to take-out and delivery only, and closing schools, bars, theaters, casinos and indoor shopping malls, among others.

Such orders, or their looming possibilities, have consequently intensified the panic-buying urges of consumers for food and household essentials, particularly in North America and Western Europe, giving occasions for daily photos of empty grocery-store shelves splashed ubiquitously from across news networks to social media platforms.

The availability of food in North America and Western Europe during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, remains generally secure, at least in the near term of the pandemic.

Food Sourcing

New York City, for instance, normally has food supply amounting to approximately 8.6 million tonnes (19 billion pounds) annually as purveyed by a network of regional and national food distributors, which then is sold at about 42,000 outlets across the city’s five boroughs, according to a 2016 study sponsored by the city.

Over half of the outlets are made up of approximately 24,000 restaurants, bars and cafes through which consumers access almost 40 percent of the city’s food by volume annually. The rest of the outlets are chain supermarkets, bodegas and online grocery stores.

The study reported that the city’s annual food supply feeds over 8.6 million city residents, over 60 million tourists, plus daily commuters in the hundreds of thousands from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

With millions of tourists and commuters now staying away from the city, however, and with the city’s hotels at just 49 percent occupancy for the week ending March 14, an excess of food supply is readily available for diversion into the city’s grocery stores and other retailers to meet the surge in demand by local residents.

In the case of Germany, the country imports food that accounts for nearly 8 percent of its US$1.3 Trillion imported goods in 2018. Germany procures from abroad about 3 million tonnes of fresh vegetables annually — with cucumbers and tomatoes accounting for 40 percent of the import volume — at a value of around 3.5 billion Euros, mainly from the Netherlands and Spain. Indeed, approximately 30 percent of the 2.6 million tonnes of exported Dutch-grown fresh vegetables goes to Germany.

Meanwhile, approximately 80 percent of the United Kingdom’s food and food ingredients are imported. The U.K. imports approximately 2.4 million tonnes of fresh vegetables each year from Spain (33 percent), the Netherlands (28 percent), France (10 percent) and from various parts the world (29 percent).

Access to Food

Although the sources and sourcing of food in North America and Western Europe are currently generally secure, what might soon become a prodigious concern is that their workers in the production, distribution and retail segments of the food supply chain may eventually succumb to coronavirus infection.

In such event, coupled with the potential for lockdown bureaucracies to slow down the flow of cargo between countries and between cities, severe delays in delivery — or real delivery shortages — could well become an actual possibility.

Local Vertical Farms

The coronavirus pandemic lockdowns have laid bare, if fortuitously, the crucial importance of partial local food production in or around world cities in the context of urban resilience.

The following salient features of vertical farms have become especially significant toward buttressing a city’s resilience in the event of a pandemic lockdown:

(1) Local — Production of safe and fresh produce can take place within the lockdown zone, obviating the hurdles and perils of going in and out of the red zone;

(2) Automation-Amenability — Impact of severe labor shortage which can be expected as the pandemic surges as well as direct physical contact between workers and fresh produce can be significantly minimized or eliminated;

(3) Controlled-Environment — Infection risks to both workers and crops are significantly reduced through clean and controlled operations;

(4) Modular Option — Crops may be grown in modular production units, such as shipping containers, which may be conveniently transported to neighborhoods located either farther away or in areas of stricter isolation; and,

(5) Reliability — Dependability and consistency of high-yield and high-quality harvests throughout the year is virtually guaranteed independently of season and external climate conditions.

Fortunately for New York City, even as it sources most of its fresh vegetables from California and Arizona, the New York greater area now serves as host to the highest concentration in the United States of commercial urban vertical farms — including Aerofarms,Bowery Farming, Bright Farms, Farm.One, Square Roots and Gotham Greens, among others — that operate as controlled-environment farms year-round and independently of the variable effects of climate and geography. While conventional outdoor farming can produce three vegetable harvests per year, some of these vertical farms can achieve up to 30 harvests annually.

New York City and other world cities could certainly use more vertical farms.

Indeed, the urban planning and design of every world city should incorporate vertical farms, in and/or around it, not only for promoting food security — but for fostering disaster resilience as well.

During a pandemic, when a temporary period of social distancing between cities and nations becomes critically necessary, vertical farms can serve as helping outposts of resilience for cities and regions on lockdown as they brave the onslaught of the pandemic until it runs its course and duly dissipates — at which time the enfeebled ties of cooperation between cities, states and nations across the globe can once again be mended and made even stronger than before.

Thus, not only locally, but in fact also globally, vertical farms can serve as helping vanguards of protection for all of our communities.

Dr Joel Cuello of University of Arizona to Speak at INdoor Ag-Con 2020Dr. Joel L. Cuello is Vice Chair of the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) and Professor of Biosystems Engineering at The University of Arizona. In addition to conducting research and designs on vertical farming and cell-based bioreactors, he also teaches “Integrated Engineered Solutions in the Food-Water-Energy Nexus” and “Globalization, Sustainability & Innovation.” Email

Coronavirus Shows the Importance of Local, Efficient Agriculture — Aquaponics Association Guest Post

Coronavirus Shows The Importance Of Local, Efficient Agriculture 

Guest post by Brian Filipowich, Chairman, Aquaponics Association-
Photo Courtesy of University of the District of Colombia Aquaponic System
Aquaponic system at the University of the District of Columbia

The coronavirus outbreak is already disrupting international travel and trade. The pandemic could impact the global food supply chain and leave some populations without adequate nutrition.

This pandemic shows that we need to invest in local agriculture to boost our supply of local, reliable food. Aquaponics, hydroponics, and controlled-environment agriculture can produce large amounts of food with minimal space and resources. These water-based growing methods do not require soil and can be practiced from arid deserts to urban rooftops.

Hidden Cost of the Global Food Supply Chain

Our modern food system involves long travel distances and several steps along the supply chain. The average head of lettuce in the U.S. travels approximately 1,500 miles. Over 90% of our seafood is imported.

The coronavirus is exposing one major hidden cost of our global system: it is at risk from disruptions like pandemics, extreme weather events, military events, and economic or political upheavals. As the climate changes, these extreme events are more likely.

How does this hidden cost of the global food supply chain manifest itself?

An american consumer can find similar prices for a tomato grown 100 miles away and a tomato grown in another country 2,000 miles away. But during a global travel ban or category 5 hurricane, your local tomato will still be there. How do we account for this benefit during the good times, so that there are enough local growers to support us during possible disruptions?

Aquaponics, Hydroponics, and Controlled-Environment Agriculture

The problem is that with a changing climate, water shortages, and growing population, there is less land to grow for more people. Deserts, freezing climates, and urban areas do not have the arable soil to grow a meaningful amount of their own food to achieve food security.

Aquaponics is a food production method integrating fish and plants in a closed, soil-less system. This symbiotic relationship mimics the biological cycles found in nature. Benefits include dramatically less water use; no toxic chemical fertilizers or pesticides; and no agriculture discharge to air, water or soil.

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in water-based systems with externally supplied nutrients.

Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) is the practice of raising crops in a protected, optimal environment like a greenhouse.

These growing methods maximize the amount of crops that can be produced per square area per year. Plants can be grown densely and quickly because conditions are ideal and roots are delivered exactly what they need. And controlled-environments allow for year-round production.

Aquaponics brings the added benefit of fish – an efficient supply of animal protein. It takes 30 pounds of feed to produce a one-pound steak, only 2 pounds for a one-pound tilapia filet. Fish can be grown densely and indoors, compared to the large operations required for beef, pork, and poultry.

Economies across the globe must find ways to value the hidden benefits of local, efficient agriculture to encourage more local growing. There will always be another coronavirus-type event, let’s make sure we have a reliable supply of local food for it.

Read more about how coronavirus shows the  importance of local agriculture, the Aquaponics Association AND share how the outbreak is affecting your aquaponic growing here >>>

Indoor Ag-Con Industry Partner Aquaponics Association