We’ll need to produce 50% more food by 2050 although we’ve lost 30% of usable farmland in the last 40 years. On top of this, 70% of our water supply goes to agriculture as droughts are becoming more frequent and severe. So what’s the solution?
Founded in 2004, Aerofarms grow their crops in half the time of a typical farm, making them 390 times more productive per square foot. They can yield over twenty harvests of leafy greens like kale and spinach per year, rather than the three of normal farms. And they do this without any fertiliser, pesticides or sun. They also save 95% of the water used on the average field-based farm.
Aeroponics. In a giant warehouse, seeds are first put on a cloth where they are fed enough moisture and nutrients to germinate. As their roots begin to dangle beneath into stacked draw-like cabins, they are sprayed with recycled water. Their sprouts are kept under LED lights designed to match their needs. And as this happens, they’re monitored by sensors, cameras and machine learning algorithms processed by Dell to optimise their moisture, nutrients, light and oxygen levels for better growth and taste.
Taking just 12-16 days to mature, they are then harvested and packaged onsite for delivery to local supermarkets. Aerofarms aims to have these warehouses on major distribution routes within 100 miles of their customers, both reducing transport emissions and making their food fresher.
What about money?
Although criticised in the past for high energy costs, LED prices have decreased dramatically year on year since 2010 while their efficiency has tripled- some now lasting over 50,000 hours. This not only means the company can sell five ounces of its produce for a competitive $3.99 in local stores, but also make a profit. Marc Oshima, chief marketing officer at the company said, “We make a healthy margin…There’s a reason that Goldman Sachs and Prudential have invested in our farms.”
However, they’re still not cheap. Each farm costs around $30m to set up. Despite this, several aerofarms already exist in the US, including a 70,000 square foot former steel factory in New Jersey that can produce 2 million pounds of salad per year. And the company plans on building another 25 of them in North America, Asia, Africa and Europe over the next 5 years.
Although still pretty expensive, as vertical farms become more efficient and LED prices continue to fall, it is likely they will help us address our future food needs.