The World’s Most High Tech Indoor Farm Doesn’t Grow Food or Cannabis

“The real transfection of plants to make biopharmaceuticals was hatched in Palo Alto in a bar called the Sundance Mining Company in 1987,” Barry Holtz, CEO of iBio CDMO, the world’s most high-tech indoor farm, told delegates at the recent Indoor Agtech Innovation Summit in Brooklyn, NY.

Transfection is the introduction of foreign DNA into plant cells in order to instruct them to create specific proteins. Essentially, iBio turns plants into bioreactors, Holtz explained.

iBio uses highly automated indoor farming methods to manufacture pharmaceutical drugs and, according to Holtz, it already has much of the technology that today’s food-growing indoor farms are just starting to develop.

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Indoor Farmers Are “Way Too Complacent” About Food Safety

“If you mess up indoors, everything is magnified,” says Sarah Taber.

Taber is an independent food safety consultant specializing in indoor farming. Previously she served as director of food safety for The Aquaponics Association after earning a Doctorate of Plant Medicine. At the association, she saw startups pitch to investors a risk-free way of farming, and that’s where the worrying began, says Taber.

Since then she has worked with half a dozen hydroponic indoor farming operations of various sizes, funding sources, and technologies and her early worries are now full-blown concerns about the safety of the food grown on indoor farming for consumers. And with food safety scandals increasingly hitting the headlines — just last month thousands of pounds of romaine lettuce were recalled when 200 people became ill and five died — it’s time some indoor ag players stopped being “way too complacent” and woke up to the dangers, says Taber. (She chose not to name the farms due to non-disclosure agreements.)

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Why Some Cannabis Investors Welcome Trump Admin Threats, Uncertainty

A close reading of cannabis news so far in 2018 is enough to cause headline whiplash. One headline says that investors are running for the hills, while another says that stocks are soaring and legal cannabis is here to stay.

Cannabis industry insiders tell AgFunderNews that the most confusing element of the events of the last nine days is that it’s all true, all at the same time.

“Most dedicated cannabis investors have expected some sort of action. It’s never a dull moment in the cannabis industry. You should expect change,” says Patrick Rea, cofounder and CEO of Colorado-based cannabis startup accelerator Canopy.

Rea says this uncertainty only spooks investors without much experience in the industry.

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What do Indoor Farming CEOs Think of Hydroponics Organic Approval?

Last week the National Organic Safety Board (NOSB), the body tasked with making recommendations to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) around its organic certification, rejected a proposal that would disallow hydroponic and aquaponic farms from being certified organic.

Hydroponic farms grow fruit and vegetables in a growing medium submerged in water, through which farmers provide nutrients. Aquaponic farmers use connected aquaculture operations to provide these nutrients.

In 2010 the NOSB voted to exclude “soilless” forms of growing, but the USDA decided not to take the recommendation, continuing to allow hydroponic farms to be certified and leading to a period of uncertainty on the subject. 

Some 100 hydroponic farms have been certified over the years inside and out of the United States (there are USDA organic approved certifiers all over the world).  But the ambivalence on the part of the USDA and according to one certifier, often true belief in a soil-based standard, led many certifiers to stay out of that game. 

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Beyond the Megafarms: 4 Alternative Models For Indoor Agriculture

Indoor agriculture has grabbed several headlines in the mainstream media recently. Not only does the idea of growing produce indoors, in an automated high-tech environment capture the imagination of many consumers and readers, but just last month, an indoor farming business raised a whopping $200 million in funding, in the largest ever deal for an agriculture technology startup.

South San Francisco’s Plenty raised the funding from SoftBank along with affiliates of Louis M. Bacon, the founder of Moore Capital Management, who joined the round alongside existing investors Innovation EndeavorsBezos Expeditions, Chinese VC DCMData Collective, and Finistere Ventures.

Four different indoor farming operations told AgFunderNews that the rate of incoming investment inquiries noticeably increased after the Plenty news. High-tech indoor farming has captured the imagination of the media as well. In fact, you could say that indoor farming is the crossover hit of the agtech world — a niche story that has made it into the mainstream.

But like a country song that hits the pop charts for a while, high-tech, high-cost indoor vertical farming groups like Plenty are not necessarily representative of the form all indoor farming operations take. There are many different business models for growing food indoors, and as this segment of the agrifood industry is still very young, there are few proven successes yet.

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UAE’s Produce Import Ban Shines Light on Food Security Dilemma and Indoor Ag Opportunity

It’s perhaps not news that the Middle East is in a precarious position when it comes to food security. One of the hottest, driest, and most inhospitable climates on Earth, the region’s agriculture industries are unable to feed their populations so the countries import the vast majority of their food, leaving them at the mercy of foreign governments.

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) food safety concerns are now exacerbating the issue after the government felt compelled to ban the import of produce from Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Lebanon and Yemen because it contains unacceptable levels of pesticide residues.

The rule, introduced on May 15, 2017, affects the imports of peppers, cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuces, squash, green beans, eggplants, apples, carrots, melons, and watercress among other fruits and vegetables.

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SoftBank Invests in Largest Ever Agtech Deal, a $200m Series B for Indoor Ag Startup Plenty

Indoor vertical farming company Plenty has raised $200 million in a Series B round of funding, the largest agtech investment to date.

Just one month after the grower acquired indoor agriculture hardware company Bright Agrotech, this round was led by Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund, a $93 billion, multi-stage tech fund.

Affiliates of Louis M. Bacon, the founder of Moore Capital Management, also joined the round alongside existing investors including Innovation EndeavorsBezos Expeditions, Chinese VC DCMData Collective, and Finistere Ventures.

Plenty uses a vertical growing plane to grow leafy greens in a 52,000 square foot South San Francisco facility. The Series B — which takes total funding for the startup to $226 million — will fuel further expansion and more farms.

One agtech venture capitalist said that Plenty had a pre-money valuation of $500 million, but Plenty CEO Matt Barnard would not confirm this figure. The same venture capitalist said that if that figure was true, the valuation would be “crazy” for a company that appears to be pre-revenue.

But Plenty’s Barnard is confident about Plenty’s “aggressive” expansion plans to improve food quality globally. This expansion will include building farms in Japan, China, and the Middle East, as well as the US.

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