This new product helps indoor farmers, retailers, and input providers measure, document and improve their carbon footprints.
“Consumers, retailers, and investors are hungry for reliable sources of produce with reduced carbon footprints. Carbon score labeling is just around the corner,” remarked Daphne Preuss, CEO. “With CarbonBook, growers will be able to document their carbon footprint over time, using an ISO-compliant model. This opens the door to more sustainable indoor farming and will provide the validation needed for additional revenue streams through the sale of carbon credits.”
Developed specifically for indoor agriculture, the software takes a comprehensive and nuanced approach, including:
• Evaluating and monitoring CO2 emissions.
• Measuring carbon contribution from energy inputs, consumables, packaging, storage, and transportation.
• Capturing benefits from biomass production, recycling and power generation.
• Providing reporting and data analysis
Designed to meet the highest industry requirements for carbon footprint products, the software uses the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and indoor agriculture- focused life cycle analysis to provide the most accurate carbon calculations available for indoor farming. About CarbonBook CarbonBook℠ is a global leader in calculating greenhouse gas contributions from indoor farming. We assess and standardize carbon footprint calculations for produce grown indoors, from high-tech vertical farms to ordinary greenhouses.
Our products enable growers, distributors, retailers, and input providers to track and improve carbon footprints, from seed to harvest to delivery.
Sensei Ag CEO Sonia Lo will lead the Indoor Ag-Con keynote presentation, “Improving Human Wellness One Farm At A Time,” on Monday, October 4, 2021 from 11:30 am – 12:20 pm. A headliner event at the October 4-5, 2021 edition at the Hilton Orlando, Lo’s discussion will focus on Sensei Ag’s form factor agnostic approach to building and expanding indoor farms.
Tapped to head Sensei Ag in 2020, Sonia brings more than 32 years of combined agriculture, technology and business experience to her leadership role. Ahead of her October keynote, we had the chance to talk to Sonia about her company’s mission, funding insights, thoughts on how we value our industry and more.
Sonia, please share with our audience some of your insights into funding in the controlled environment agriculture industry. You’ve stated in the past that venture capital funding alone is not enough to win the day as it relates to indoor vertical farming. Rather, you’ve posited that when/if large, commercial farms are in some way “tied” to the energy grid, municipal bonds would come into play as a viable funding vehicle for these new operations. Can you elaborate on that further?
Venture capital is indeed an important source of funding for the economy, and I am by no means downplaying the role of the VC investor. I myself have run my own investment fund which has invested over $150 million in growth stage companies. Nevertheless, we often see venture capital looking to invest in companies that:
1) Are already well on their way to becoming profitable
2) Have very sophisticated fundraising teams or
3) Have deep relationships already in place with the venture or private equity communities.
Smaller, developing indoor farming companies as well as large commercial farms are less likely to have these connections than say a traditional tech company. It would be more likely that they would be candidates for municipal bonds or green bonds that would be accompanied by much lower interest rates and not tied to earn outs and profitability but instead to the greater good of society.
This brings me to the concept then of how do we value our industry? If we can’t properly value indoor agriculture, then neither banks nor venture capital will be able to provide adequate funding to spur our growth. You may have heard me say this in prior publications, but my true hope is that by developing a collective body of knowledge on indoor growing, financial institutions, public and private, will be able to risk asses our businesses, value them long term and provide the necessary funding to spur growth, technology and innovation for our industry. At Sensei Ag, we are positioning ourselves to be one of the key aggregators and generators of such data, moving our industry forward for all who are looking to make a difference in the ability to feed our growing global population healthy, nutritious food.
Sensei Ag has stated being a “form factor agnostic” grower is the goal. When you look to the mix of greenhouse, indoor farm, open field and any other growing environment, tell us how varied grow form factors and crop mixes (leafy greens and fruiting crops) will provide variety and diversity among Sensei Ag’s offerings to your customers?
Being form factor agnostic is core to Sensei Ag’s business model and growth plan. We are indoor growers – not just greenhouse growers, not just vertical farm growers. With that said, it’s not just about the types of leafy greens and other produce we will be able to grow using different form factors, but also the ability to venture into new regions of the globe, areas that were traditionally considered food deserts but through one form factor or another can now become food oases.
At our greenhouses on Lana’i, we currently grow hydroponically and produce a variety of exceptional leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and other delicious produce. We are regularly trying out new varieties of cultivars and look forward to introducing even more delicious produce to Hawaii.
This is now the second indoor agriculture company for which you are serving in the important role of CEO. What attracted you to join Sensei Ag and to the company’s overall mission?
When I began by career over thirty years ago with a Stanford degree in political science and math, agriculture was definitely not where I imagined myself down the line. That said, after spending the majority of my career in finance and tech, I can truly say that I am the happiest growing local, nutritious food for others. I joined Sensei Ag last April for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spearhead a company developing science focused on human wellness from food and agriculture systems. As CEO, I am very honored to lead an exceptionally talented team of professionals who together share one vision and that is to increase adoption of indoor agricultural production globally.
Of course complicating this all was no doubt joining a company right in the heart of a global pandemic. Much of our team, with the exception of our farming team on Lana’i, spent the past year working over Zoom. We are only now finally getting a chance to collaborate and spend time in person – and of course seeing more than the top halves of our bodies!
Nevertheless, the journey thus far has been incredible. I’ve never been known to take the straight and narrow path. Ask anyone about the twisted, curvy roads on Lana’i. Yet, in my mind, there’s never been a more crucial time in our world’s history to address global food insecurity, to encourage and develop new means of promoting health and wellness and to heal and nourish our planet. I look forward to the adventure that lies ahead.
‘Crossing the Chasm: Financing Indoor Ag From Seed To Scale’ To Feature Panel Discussions With Successful Indoor Ag Entrepreneurs, Their Investors & Other Experts On Nuances of Financing Across All Stages
What is each stage of financing? How does financing change as you grow? Can you “skip the line”? Attendees will get answers to these questions and many more during a special edition of the popular Indoor Ag-Conversations series, “Crossing the Chasm: Financing Indoor Ag From Seed to Scale,” scheduled for June 8 & 9, 2021 from 1:00 – 4:30 PM each day. Co-hosted by Indoor Ag-Con, Brad McNamara and the FarmTech Society, the virtual program will bring together successful indoor agriculture entrepreneurs. The program will include 6 panel discussions over two days offering an in-depth look at financing across all stages.
“In surveys on educational offerings, finance/funcing is the most requested topic we receive,” says Brian Sulllivan, Co-Owner/Partner, Indoor Ag-Con. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Brad McNamara and FarmTech Society Chair Ian Kanski for this special edition of our Indoor Ag-Conversations series. “Calling upon their own proven, hands-on industry experience and knowledge, Brad and Ian have put together an incredible program. It will give attendees a crystal clear roadmap to build their CEA funding strategy – from seed to scale.”
Day 1 | June 8, 2021| 1:00 – 4:30 PM EDT — Seed to Series B – Presented By Brad McNamara
Featuring 3 in-depth panel discussions with successful entrepreneurs and their investors. Host Brad McNamara, industry advisor, entrepreneur, will push for first-hand accounts of each round. The goal – to pull back the curtain on funding an idea and creating an investment grade business in CEA.
Sessions will include:
Seed – Idea and Opportunity with Allison Kopf, Founder & CEO, Artemis and Ed Kim, Managing Partner, Red Dog Capital
Series A – Opportunity and Business with Virginia Emery, CEO & Founder, Beta Hatch and Louis Kang, Managing Director, AccelR8
Series B – Business & Growth
Day 2 | June 9, 2021 | 1:00 PM- 4:30 PM | Crossing The Chasm — Presented By FarmTech Society
2020 was a big year for CEA. In addition, the next two years are likely to see unprecedented growth and change in the sector. On day 2 of the Indoor Ag-Conversations ‘Seed to Scale’ event, host FarmTech Society will focus on the maturing of the industry as CEA “crosses the chasm” into mainstream adoption.
FarmTech Society leadership will moderate three panel discussions. These will focuson the realities of profitability and scale in different CEA operations. Sessions will also report on current trends. What’s more, sessions willl also focus on innovations in finance and investment for the CEA industry. And, forecasting on emerging opportunities and funding strategies for companies and new commercial projects.
Sessions will include:
Risks and Rewards -Reality Checking the Economics and Risk Factors of CEA
Growing Up – Moving Beyond High Risk, High Cost Investment Capital
CEA As Green Infrastructure – Positioning For Scale As Environmental and Social Impact Factors Become Essential to Investor Decisions
Admission to the two-day program, including all six panel discussions, is $49. To register and learn more about sessions, speakers and additional details, visit www.indoor.ag/webinar.
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. The next edition is slated for October 4-5, 2021 at the Hilton Orlando. 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. www. indoor.ag
ABOUT BRAD McNAMARA
Brad McNamara is a 4x founder and 2x CEO, who thrives where bits & bytes meet the physical world. He is an idea to Series B operator with experience incubating, starting, and scaling hardware and software businesses. As the Founding CEO of Freight Farms, Inc., an ag-tech company on a mission to enable on-site commercial food production anywhere in the world, he built the product, team, and business from zero to a global footprint. www.bradmcnamara.com
ABOUT FARMTECH SOCIETY
The Farm Tech Society (FTS) is an international non-profit industry association that unites and supports the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) industry, seeking to strengthen the sector through the development and implementation of resilient and future proof methods and technologies for indoor growing. Board Chair Ian Kanski is also He is the Director of the Center for Advanced Agriculture and Sustainability at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. In addition, he is co-founder of INTAG,a developer of biological technologies for nutrient recycling, waste and water remediation in the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) sector. www.farmtechsociety.org
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.
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.”