How Vertical Farms Are Disrupting Industries

How Vertical Farms Are Disrupting Industries

By Heidi Reidel

Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30” list, honoring young artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs included individuals who are shaking up industries from asteroid mining to nanotechnology. One winner, Michael Barron, however, might be disrupting several industries with his work on vertical farming for a company called AeroFarms.

Disrupting Industries

AeroFarms builds vertical farms to provide produce to areas that rarely see fresh, locally grown vegetables in the market. Their new global headquarters in Newark, New Jersey promises to be the world’s largest indoor vertical farm. Not only will their presence reshape farming, groceries, and water and pesticide usage, but also the real estate and job markets in New Jersey.

AeroFarms produce uses 95% less water than field farmed-food and zero pesticides. With the same seeds, they can grow in 12 to 16 days what ordinarily takes crops 30 to 45 days to grow in the field. Barron has improved average crop yield performance by 44% to 91%.

Vertical Farming vs Field Farming

Technology has replaced nature in this revolutionary farm. LED lights replace sun; a cloth medium replaces soil. In addition, an aeroponic mist of water and nutrients are sprayed on dangling roots. With the new advances, also come a look at how these artificial measures are changing the products. One common concern is taste, but AeroFarms has won over restaurant owners and dietitians with their flavor. They are also experimenting with maximizing a plant’s nutrient absorption rate.

The competition between vertical farms and traditional farms has only just begun, but AeroFarms has already attracted big-name investors such as Goldman Sachs and Prudential. An estimate from the Market Research Engine predicts that vertical farming is expected to cross $6 billion by 2022. Furthermore, because vertical farms are not at the mercy of nature, they can offer year round employment.

Reshaping Real Estate

A perhaps unexpected side effect of this new era of farming is its impact on real estate and local job markets. Several factors have the potential to affect where these indoor farms will be constructed. Mushrooming urban populations paired with the growing desire to eat local will spur farms to settle in cities and industrial areas. This offers new use for industrial and warehouse real estate.

The Northeast is providing a lucrative market because of its distance from California and Arizona. These places are where produce is commonly grown and has aged by the time it reaches the East Coast. New Jersey in particular is ripe for revitalization; real estate prices are far cheaper than in New York and, AeroFarms alone, will be providing 80 new jobs in the Newark area, a place where the unemployment rate is twice the national average. Barron boasts that they’re not just bringing industry jobs, but clean jobs.

Proximity to renewable power sources may also become a factor in the future. The largest cost for vertical farms is energy consumption, though advances in LED technology are expected to continue cost reduction. Proximity to distribution hubs so as to reduce the cost and environmental impact of transportation is another consideration.

What makes Michael Barron’s contribution to this budding industry particularly notable is that he’s had to pioneer much of his research. As he’s stated, “this is all uncharted territory.” The implications of this work ripple across industries, giving Barron a well-earned place on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list.

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