Traditional soil-grown crop production has worked well for thousands of years, but there’s one fact that has placed strain on conventional agriculture: The human population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. With that comes a demand that already stressed fields can’t necessarily supply.
- With a steadily rising world population, vertical farming offers a way to meet demand for enough food to feed the planet.
- Backed by venture capitalists, hydroponic companies use water instead of soil to grow produce that has become popular with consumers.
- These companies are now figuring out how to scale their operations.
“We need traditional farming, and traditional farming is going to have to produce at maximum capacity for all of eternity, for all of the future,” says Nate Storey, who is the co-founder and chief science officer of San Francisco-based vertical farming company Plenty Inc. “One of the issues that we have is that we cannot produce enough. We only produce half to two-thirds of what we actually need just to meet demand.”
Plenty and many other ag tech operations are hoping to bridge the gap between supply and demand by growing in highly controlled indoor environments instead of traditional outdoor methods. These hydroponic companies, which use water instead of soil, have been securing huge funding from venture capitalists, and the produce they yield has become highly popular among consumers.
Hydroponic farming comes in a variety of formats, but all boast benefits such as an ability to pivot quickly, a cleaner crop, a hyperlocal supply chain and a more sustainable operation than traditional farming. Now, many of these companies are figuring out one of the most important components to their viability: scale.
Ability to Shift
Publix Cultivates Hydroponic Produce
Inside the Farms
These new hydroponic farms come in a variety of formats. For example, Sensei Ag primarily uses the nutrient film technique (NFT) system at its farm in Lana’i, with shallow channels of tubing providing nutrients, while at Plenty’s largest farm to date, near San Francisco, plants are grown in two-sided walls that are more than 16 feet tall.
The technology in these large-scale, high-tech operations sets them apart from outdoor farming and even other indoor growing methods.