10 Dec 2021 — The challenges posed by urbanization and the gradual dwindling of arable land is driving more farming indoors. To this end, Future Crops is leveraging data-driven tech to create the ideal environmental conditions for crops to thrive within a highly controlled, automated structure.
The system controls dozens of parameters of growth conditions, including humidity, temperature and lighting to create optimal climatic conditions to suit each crop. A unique soil substrate composition is used in this operation, further bringing this new farming concept “closer to home and to the earth.”
The Israeli-Dutch venture has established a fully automated 8,000 m2 indoor vertical farm in Westland, Netherlands, dubbed the “greenhouse hub” of Europe.
Future Crops currently runs supply contracts with a leading grocery retailer in the Netherlands and with additional retailers in Europe.
High-tech vertical farming offers a means of achieving voluminous crop outputs in limited space.
Future Crops CEO and co-founder Gary Grinspan likens the company’s own iteration of this technology to a “plant whisperer.” “Plants will draw what they need from nature,” he explains.
“Our team of agronomists are able to ‘listen’ to each plant to determine its individual needs in real time – how much ‘sleep’ versus light, the type of light, air quality, how much water, specific nutrient needs, etc.,” he remarks.
“The plants ‘respond’ in their own unique language as expressed via small nuances such as changes in morphology, shape, size and color. Via these signals, our algorithm can be primed to provide the plants precisely what they need at each stage of their life cycle.”
The Dutch facility, towering nine stories, is powered primarily by solar energy and combined with high precision agricultural technology.
Grinspan claims that this method of cultivation not only delivers quality fresh produce, it enables the produce to reclaim its original characteristic taste and aromas that have been degraded following decades of pesticide use and industry pressures to place the focus on boosting output.
“We learned from nature and did not want to change its rules,” stresses Grinspan.
“Our system can consistently grow a comprehensive range of herbs and leafy microgreens throughout the year, completely free of any pesticides or biological substances, and with zero dependence on climate conditions.
Earlier this year, frustrated vertical farmers in Europe called for a review of existing food policy after years of campaigning failed to budge the EU from extending organic certification only to soil-based farming systems.
Securing US$30M in first funding round
Future Crops highlights that its produce grown in vertical farming has demonstrated a longer shelf-life and reach full growth in significantly less time, enabling multiple growth cycles.
This significantly shortens the farm-to-table supply chain by weeks, including reducing food mileage, the start-up underscores.
Future Crops was founded in 2016, in conjunction with the Israeli Agricultural Research Organisation (ARO) and A&F Ventures.
The company secured US$30 million in its first round of funding, while sealing a joint R&D venture with Dr. Nativ Dudai and Dr. David Haimovitch, both of the Israeli Agricultural Research Organisation Institute (ARO), where Dudai heads the medical and aromatic plant unit.
“Food system resilience is at the core of Future Crops’ vision and the key to building a better future for generations to follow,” says Dudai. “It’s time to reevaluate the way we use our natural resources, to deliver clean, sustainable crops and ensure food security.”
Rethinking the agricultural value chain
Experts globally warn of food shortages due to a growing population forecast to exceed 10 billion over the next decade. Moreover, the combination of environmental, logistical and geopolitical bottlenecks is spurring initiatives to bring food sources closer to home.
Acknowledging this, Innova Market Insights recently crowned “Shared Planet” as its Top Trend for 20221. The market researcher underscores that consumers now rank planetary health as their number one concern, with this even overtaking personal health, which has been the top priority in recent years.
These trends have challenged the agricultural industry to rethink the farming paradigm in a way that allows greater productivity in a more sustainable and less resource-intensive manner.
Last September, an EU-backed project spearheaded research into scaling vertical gardens for domestic use, intending to make personalized nutrition more available throughout the continent while reducing reliance on industrial farming
In other developments, BASF Venture Capital recently invested in Indian start-up UrbanKisaan, which specializes in hydroponic cultivation of various types of vegetables, greens and herbs in tropical urban environments. This was pegged as the company’s first investment in an early-stage business focusing on India.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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