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Sustainability β€” Food β€” Climate

🍏 "Vertical Farming and the Future of Food"

Azeem Azhar's Exponential View

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti / Unsplash

Host: Azeem Azhar
Guest: Daniele Modesto | CEO | ZERO Farms
Category: 🍏 Sustainable Food

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:25] AA: β€œSustainable food production is one of the challenges that will shape our world over the coming decades as our climate shifts and the global population continues to swell. Food producers and technologists will have to come up with increasingly efficient and resilient ways to grow the food we need. One method starting to gain traction is vertical farming. It's growing plants in tall buildings or stacked shipping containers in very tightly controlled conditions. Vertical farming uses far less land, energy and water than traditional farming, at least in theory. And by perfecting conditions inside facilities, vertical farms could produce higher plant yields. These methods have another huge advantage, they can be carried out anywhere with total precision. Imagine a world where you can grow lettuce in deserts or kale in city centers. β€œ

[3:09] AA: β€œA few months ago, the total value of projects from vertical farms globally was still below the $10 billion a year mark and the global food industry is approximately $8-10 trillion. [So it’s about] 0.1% of the market. So it seems to be a great idea that is taking quite a while to come to any sort of fruition.”

[3:32] DM: β€œThe problem lies with sustainability. And we're not talking about environmental sustainability […], we’re talking about financial sustainability. […] If you do compare vertical farms with technology advanced greenhouses, like the ones you have in the Netherlands, the initial price for a vertical farm starts at about four times the maximum cost you do have for a greenhouse in terms of square meter. […] This is a huge bottleneck.”

[4:56] DM: β€œWhile both vertical farms and greenhouses are in implementation of what you might call control environment agriculture. Vertical farms are enclosed environments. So they are fully independent ecosystems where you can actually drive the growth process in a very precise way. […] In a vertical farm, you might be in a position to control in a very detailed way the amount of light you feed the props, whether in a greenhouse that you rely on where you install the greenhouse. So you can place a vertical farm literally anywhere on the planet. You can't do that with a greenhouse.”

[7:45] DM: β€œThe problem is that if you invest too much money into setting up the farm and you're going to be also spending a lot of money to operate that, the produce you get from that vertical farm are going to be very expensive. And you're gonna end up with crops on the shelf that are priced at two times of what might be paid for organic crops.”

[18:22] DM: β€œVertical farms […] don't need the to [be] appl[ied] just to food. You can grow biopharmaceuticals in vertical farms, you can grow biomaterials in vertical farms. There are many different applications. If it comes to food, it would be silly to say that you might one day be growing potatoes in a vertical farm. It doesn't make any sense. Vertical farms, in addition to lettuces and leafy greens, may be nice for herbes, for microgreens, for strawberries, for young plants. […] I don't see vertical farms in the future growing soybeans or wheat.”

[28:54] DM: β€œWe deem ourselves a B2B company. We are focused on technology and operating the farms. While especially in North America, several companies are willing to bring their own brand to the market. […] We are thinking that the way to unleash scale in this business is to establish partnerships with the players that already have the market channels available. […] We are totally focused on making the technology work and optimizing the data in order to make it possible to position the crops at least at organic price level.”

Rating: πŸ’§πŸ’§πŸ’§πŸ’§

πŸŽ™οΈ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
πŸ•°οΈ 49 min | πŸ—“οΈ 03/02/2022
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