A New Crop For Vertical Farming

The Lempert Report
June 05, 2017

Vertical Farming isn’t new, but this crop might give it a new umpf

Pure Agrobusiness is a company that sells equipment to grow legal cannabis, a market worth $6 billion in 2016 and expected to reach $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.

Bloomberg recently spoke with its CEO and founder, Rick Byrd who said that because cannabis has higher profit margins than food, and pot is mostly grown inside, he hopes the innovations perfected by PureAgro could one day revolutionize food production. His vision goes well beyond growing pot. 

He says its “the perfect catalyst to bring in what I think really needs to change in farming. You can’t have the average produce truck going 1,500 miles to get to your plate. And there’s no way, obviously, to farm the amount of acres that we would need to feed New York City unless we go vertical.” 

Byrd imagines a 100-story glass skyscraper filled with floors of stacked beds of fruits, vegetables and grain. The same technology that currently enables vertical indoor farms to raise primo weed can one day produce perfect tomatoes or succulent lettuce, according to the report in Bloomberg. Paper or mesh holds up the plants, substituting for soil. Powerful lights do the work now done by the sun, but better. Data calibrate the exact light spectrum and nutrients for the plants to thrive, and machines drip just enough water. Harvests are frequent -- four or five a year, compared with one outdoor.

Making urban farms vertical instead of horizontal could cut agriculture’s reliance on fossil fuels and diminish risks from pests, pesticides and an increasingly haywire environment, Byrd said. 

And examples for food, not pot, actually exist today. 

Sky Greens, in Singapore, began operating in 2012 to reduce reliance on food imports. Plants are grown using hydroponics -- without soil -- in an aluminum frame. 

In the offices of Tokyo-based human-resources company Pasona Group Inc., 20 percent of the space is used to grow vegetables. Ten thousand square feet of growing beds and lights share space with conference rooms and offices. The building produces 100 different kinds of fruits and vegetables. 

It’s time we start looking over our shoulder and see what else is being done, sometimes even better that we can incorporate in the food supply chain.