People, power costs keep indoor farming down to Earth

Monday, July 09, 2018

There’s a budding industry that’s trying to solve the problem of the limp lettuce and tasteless tomatoes in America’s supermarkets.

It’s full of technologists who grow crops in buildings instead of outdoors, short-cutting the need to prematurely harvest produce for a bumpy ride often thousands of miles to consumers in colder climes.

More than 30 high-tech companies from the U.S. to Singapore hoping to turn indoor farming into a major future food source, if only they can clear a stubborn hurdle: high costs.

These companies stack plants inside climate-controlled rooms, parse out nutrients and water, and bathe them with specialized light. It’s all so consumers can enjoy tasty vegetables year-round using a fraction of the water and land that traditional farming requires. Farmers can even brag the produce is locally grown.

But real estate around cities is pricey. Electricity and labor don’t come cheap. And unlike specialty crops like newly legal marijuana, veggies rarely command premium prices. (It’s tough to compete with plants grown in dirt with free sunlight, after all.)

Even the best-funded indoor farming company on the planet — Plenty, which has raised nearly $230 million so far — has embraced a longtime farmers’ crutch: government handouts. It hasn’t found any takers yet.

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Category: Brown County