When people think of agriculture, they often picture rows of crops on flat lands stretching out to the horizon. But according to agtech start up Plenty, we should be thinking vertical for best yield. Stranger still, Plenty’s agricultural vision is indoors and populated by robots.
“The reality is, there are five places in the world where you can grow fresh fruits and vegetables really economically, and all of that land is used up at this point,” said Nate Storey, Plenty co-founder and chief science officer, as reported by Forbes. “Vertical farming exists because we want to grow the world’s capacity for fresh fruits and vegetables, and we know it’s necessary.”
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Plenty is talking about an exponentially better yield — 400 times more per acre — while using 95% less water. The system is also capable of thriving as an indoor farm in just about any terrain.
In a Plenty farm, plants will hang on racks vertically from ceilings. Instead of the sun shining down on the crops, full-spectrum and fully controllable LED lights will beam from all sides. Giant robots will grab the racks of plants and move them as needed. Artificial intelligence will make decisions about temperature, light and water, constantly improving machine learning to maximize yield.
The water management is genius, too. “When you think about water, you know, 90% of the water in the field that you put down is just lost to transpiration, right?” Storey told Forbes. “Or evaporation, it’s just evaporating from the soil surface, or the plants are transpiring that water. So it’s lost. And in our farm, the plants still transpire, but we capture that water vapor.”
Once the produce is ready to eat, it won’t have to be shipped a thousand miles. It can feed people in the neighborhood. Right now, that means San Franciscans, as that’s where the startup is based. The company is currently constructing a second farm in Compton, California. But the agtech startup may soon grow even faster, as investors like Jeff Bezos from Amazon and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt have just added $400 million in capital to Plenty’s budget.
Photography by Spencer Lowell via Plenty