New opportunities for agriculture bloom in cleanrooms

Global Business

Some call it the future of farming and in some places it’s already here. It’s called indoor vertical farms, an alternative to conventional outdoor agriculture and it’s being tried in Europe, Asia and the U.S.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

“Why don’t we start on this one right here,” said Nathan Lorne, as he began a recent tour of his facility under a purplish glow.

Lorne is the Sales Manager at Infinite Harvest, an indoor hydroponic vertical farm in Lakewood, Colorado that grows four varieties of exactly one crop, lettuce. CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy takes us inside the facility.

“What you see here is a Bibb lettuce,” Lorne said. “The variety is Flandria.”

Inside a 500 square meter warehouse, under red and blue lights, because that’s what leafy green vegetables like, sit 52,000 heads of lettuce stacked from floor to ceiling. An automated system controls the variables that allow these crops to survive and thrive.

“Whether it be temperature, humidity, CO2, water temperature, light schedule, the list goes on and on,” Lorne said.

Welcome to at least a part of farming’s future, something that’s being tried in Europe and Asia, as well as other parts of the U.S.

“All of those problems that we see in agriculture as we know it are more or less solved by an operation like this,” Lorne added.

It solves problems like soil-borne contamination, labor costs and drought. It minimizes the need to truck food long distances, trips that often lead to food waste. It’s an answer to the age-old farmer’s dilemma.

“How do we optimize an environment to maximize the production of a crop,” said Josh Craver, an assistant professor of Controlled Environment Horticulture at Colorado State University.

The school dabbles in what’s called controlled environment agriculture. At a time when more and more people want locally produced, high-quality food, vertical farms are bringing that food to the dinner table. Of course man does not live on lettuce alone. This type of agriculture may not make sense for row crops like corn and wheat. While LED lighting has made indoor farming much more possible, it does use its share of power.

“It is relatively expensive to have these structures and to manage these structures year-round, but what you get in return is this premium high-quality crop that oftentimes can be sold for a premium,” Craver said.

Infinite Harvest is constantly tweaking its treatment of lettuce which can be a bit finicky.

“You can ask a plant to do something,” Lorne said. “You can’t tell it to do something.”

Unlike other lettuce farms, which harvest two or three times a year, Lorne says, “this company, whose produce is consumed in restaurants, hotels and hospitals, doesn’t take seasons off.”

Infinite Harvest says it will soon be profitable.

“I don’t think vertical farming or indoor farming will necessarily replace agriculture in the long run,” he said. “I think it will change it though.”

Now, Infinite Harvest is even looking to branch out and produce things like berries.

Timothy Shelford discusses the growing market for vertical farming

CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to Timothy Shelford about the growing market for vertical farming.