US vertical farming startup Plenty and berry grower Driscoll’s plan to build a new indoor farm completely dedicated to strawberry production.
The announcement comes a little over a year after the pair first announced their intention to grow crops using a combination of the Plenty’s controlled environment ag (CEA) tech and Driscoll’s proprietary genetics for strawberries.
Plenty competitor Bowery Farming has also announced the launch of its strawberry “duo-pack” into select retailers. The pack will feature two different strawberry varieties, both grown in Bowery’s indoor vertical farm.
The announcements underscore the likelihood that strawberries are the next big crop for vertical farming – and that there will be intense competition for market share as companies inch towards commercial-level production.
New York’s Bowery has had plans to sell strawberries for some time and last month acquired robotics startup Traptic, which makes robots for harvesting delicate crops. At the time, Bowery said the acquisition would accelerate commercialization of its fruiting and vine crops, calling out strawberries specifically.
The company’s strawberry duo-pack will be available at selected retailers and restaurants in New York City for a limited time.
Plenty’s planned strawberry production facility will be the first commercial-scale farm it builds outside of its home state of California – though the exact location has not yet been revealed. The company says strawberries grown there will serve consumers in the Northeastern US.
Earlier this year, Plenty raised $400 million in funding. The Series E round was the largest fundraise to date for a vertical farming company, and followed Plenty’s $140 million Series D round in October 2020, which was co-led by Driscoll’s.
In a statement, Driscoll’s chairman and CEO J Miles Reiter spoke of Plenty’s “technological leadership in indoor vertical farming” as a reason the berry-maker chose this partnership.
Why it matters:
Plenty and Bowery both excel at farming systems — that is, the hardware and software needed to grow mass amounts of produce inside. Crop breeding and genetics are traditionally more the territory of a long-established grower like Driscoll’s, which has decades of know-how around optimizing berries for growing environments. Whether this proves an advantage to Plenty in the race to commercialize vertically-grown strawberries remains to be seen; Bowery earmarked a portion of its then record-breaking $300 million Series C for crop variety R&D. CEO Irving Fain told AFN that the company has a “world-class research and development team on the agricultural sciences side.”
Commercializing crops beyond leafy greens is critical to vertical farming’s long-term success. Many have suggested controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is headed for the “trough of disillusionment.” One of the big reasons for this is that despite lofty promises of being the future of food, indoor farming has yet to deliver on growing heartier crops at a scale that would make a positive impact in feeding a growing global population.
Fain is optimistic that CEA “has a real place in the produce conversation now in a way it didn’t have a few years ago” and that while it might be an inflection point, “that’s a net positive for the industry overall,” he told AFN recently.
Given that strawberries routinely top the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list, strawberry production is a natural next step for the entire industry.
Other companies, including Singrow, Amplified Ag, and Infarm, have said they are also working on strawberries, while New York-based Oishii already sells the high-end Omakase strawberry grown on its vertical farm [disclosure: AFN‘s parent company, AgFunder, is an investor in Singrow.]
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