Indoor Farming Expanding Rapidly, Many Challenges Though

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The Washington Post reports:

Baltimore, MD – The next big thing is here, all girders and concrete pads, glass roofing and gravelly dirt. Viraj Puri, co-founder of one of the nation’s largest indoor farm companies, walks through the construction site, and even without the luminous frills of thousands of butter lettuces, it’s easy to see that the building going up where Bethlehem Steel once stood is something ambitious in the world of food.

The Sparrows Point steelworks in Baltimore, once the largest steel-producing facility in the world, was shuttered in 2012, leaving no trace of what once supported 30,000 families with Bethlehem Steel wages. Now the vacated land is dominated by a FedEx distribution center, an Amazon fulfillment center, an Under Armour warehouse.

And by the beginning of December, Puri’s Gotham Greens farm will join them, part of a global craze for decentralized indoor food production.

Food and agriculture innovation have sucked up remarkable amounts of investor capital in recent years and could become a $700 billion market by 2030, according to a Union Bank of Switzerland report.

Millions are being invested globally in indoor urban farms because of their promise to produce more food with less impact, with two dozen large-scale projects launching in Dubai, Israel, the Netherlands and other countries.

Still, the next big thing may be stymied in the United States by high start-up costs, high urban rents and lack of a safety net in a food system that is highly dependent on subsidies and bailouts for a few commodity crops. (An American Farm Bureau Federation report last month found that almost 40 percent of conventional farm income in 2019 will be provided by trade bailouts, disaster insurance, the farm bill and insurance indemnities.)

Gotham Greens’ under-construction Baltimore facility in August. The company is transforming the old Bethlehem Steel site into a 100,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse, the largest it has built. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

 

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