SoftBank Vision Fund invests $200 million into Plenty, a Vertical Indoor Farming startup.

SoftBank Vision Fund invests $200 million into Plenty, a Vertical Indoor Farming startup.

Because those rooftop gardens were never going to feed a megacity of millions.

Seeing the opportunity to continue the work that others have left off, chairman of SoftBank Group Corp Masayoshi Son is investing $200 million into Plenty, a promising start-up in Silicon Valley that thinks that they have finally found the holy grail of urban agriculture which will revolutionize indoor agriculture: vertical indoor farming.

Part of SoftBank’s $93 billion Vision Fund, the tech giant is banking that the work being done at Plenty will transform how we grow food, which will dramatically improve our ability to supply high quality food to cities – and therefore our quality of life.

By tilting the world ninety degrees sideways so that both plants and the light source are now oriented vertically from the ground, Plenty’s vertical indoor farming houses will allow crops to be grown within the confines of a sprawling urban landscape.

In addition to saving arable land, Plenty’s vertical indoor farming will require only 1 per cent of the water to produce 350 times more food in the same area of a conventional farm The system is, however, still limited at the moment, and works best for leafy produce and not so well for rooted plants like carrots and potatoes. It’s still an amazing achievement, which dwarfs the productivity of its closest competitor Aerofarms by almost three times.

In the “Cathedral”, CEO and cofounder Matt Barnard explains that the ability to grow crops independent from the sun opens up a number of adaptations that can make the work easier and faster for both humans and machines.

Free from the boundary of the outside sun, the technology behind Plenty’s vertical farms will mean that agricultural produce will now be able to be grown closer to city centres, cutting down a 3000-mile supply chain to 50 mile, reducing the time it takes for the produce to reach where it needs to be within hours, and not days or weeks.

The quicker delivery times would help retain more nutrients in the food. In just one week, food can lose up to 55% of nutrients like Vitamin C.

Before Plenty, other indoor farming startups weren’t so lucky; Podponics in Atlanta failed after it failed to develop a cost-effective system particularly with the cost of labour, FarmedHere in Chicago shut down due to the high cost of needed equipment including LED lights and Vancouver greenhouse Local Garden ran out of steam (and capital) when it failed to achieve a profitable level of productivity.

Barnard says that the timing must be right in order to take advantage of available technology to achieve workable economics. He adds that it would have cost 64 times more to purchase the same number of LED lights – not to mention computing, IoT and artificial intelligence resources would’ve been a lot less affordable.

It is their hope that these high-intensive farms will be built in every major urban centre in the world.

Source: Bloomberg, Feature image via Plenty

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Justine Foong

Likes lone walks in the park. Doesn't think that waiting an hour in a line for food is worth any recommendation. Believes that a major breakthrough in Engineered Negligible Senescence will come within this lifetime.