Indoor agriculture has definitely put down roots in the United States.
Vegetable Growers News in 2015 cited a white paper released at the third annual Indoor Ag-Con that outlined 15 existing commercial-scale rooftop greenhouses and vertical farms in the U.S.
Authors of the report, titled Indoor Crop Production: Feeding the Future, conceded that indoor farming will never replace conventional outdoor agriculture. “It will instead augment the food chain to create a diverse, distributed system more resilient to supply shocks and better prepared to meet the demands of a global population.”
Indoor agriculture typically entails growing produce with hydroponic and aeroponic technologies in greenhouses, warehouses and containers.
The white paper authors estimated another 30 commercial-scale farms like the ones noted in the report would be established in 2015. “With a total addressable market of over $9 billion—or 17 times the current U.S. market size—indoor agriculture is poised to be the next major enhancement to the American food supply chain.”
The 2015 Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit, held last October, included a tour of Petersburg’s Harding Street Community Agriculture Center, which features indoor aquaponic and hydroponic growing systems. Summit speakers included the owner of The Farmery, a North Carolina-based operation that features portable hydroponic gardens in shipping containers, and the president of Brooklyn Grange Farm in New York. That operation is the largest rooftop soil farm in the U.S.
The white paper authors noted that at least $32 billion in venture capital-like funds were invested in indoor agriculture in 2014.
“We’re on the cusp of witnessing significant increases in agricultural production indoors in the U.S. and here in Virginia,” said Tony Banks, commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The local food movement continues to evolve and expand. Greater emphasis is being placed on addressing both food quality and quantity concerns in food deserts.
“These factors coupled with technology advancements in plant varieties, artificial lighting, automated control systems and other systems are enhancing the economic viability of projects of larger scale. Indoor agriculture makes 12-month production cycles possible, which further helps the economic viability of these facilities.”
At the same time, Banks said, “These systems aren’t for everyone even if you purchase a turn-key system. There’s a lot that producers have to learn in facility operation and crop management that is different from field and greenhouse production. The facilities need community support to be viable, so educating and involving the community is very important to facility success.”