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A strawberry-picking robot. Image credit: Oishii

Brief: Vertical farming company Oishii opens solar-powered facility to grow ’20x’ more strawberries to meet market demand

June 4, 2024

Vertical farming company Oishii has officially opened the doors on its 237,000-square-foot strawberry-farming facility first announced earlier this year year.

Dubbed the Amatelas Farm (for the Japanese Goddess of the Sun), the Phillipsburg, New Jersey-located facility runs on renewable energy and “represents a new, more efficient paradigm for indoor agriculture,” according to the company. The farm will now serve as the main production hub for Oishii’s Koyo strawberries, which are based on a berry specific to the Koyo region of Japan.

Oishii raised a $134 million Series B at the start of this year, when the company first hinted at the new facility. At the time, CEO and co-founder Hiroki Koga told AgFunderNews the new facility was an answer to the company’s production constraints.

“We have so much demand from the market, but it took us many years even just to get to [the Northeast US]. Even there, we’re not in nearly as many stores as we want because of production capacity,” he said.

Amatelas Farm command center. Image credit: Oishii

What’s in the new farm

The Amatelas Farm is “the size of several football fields” and made up of individual farm units each containing 250 moving racks of strawberries.

Robots — nearly 50, says the company — use AI and visual recognition to detect ripeness in each fruit before picking the berries. The robots also capture data that’s used over time to adjust environmental variables like light, temperature and wind speed.

Capacity-wise, the space can grow “more than 20 times” the number of berries from its previous facility, says Oishii. It runs primarily off solar power, fed by a 50-acre solar field next door.

The new facility will allow Oishii to enter new markets along the East Coast in the US. Other facilities are “under construction,” though for the time being the company will focus its Koyo Berry production on the new facility and continue growing its Omakase strawberry and Rubi tomato at its existing 72,000-square-foot farm in Jersey City.

Oishii will also trial new types of berries with retailers in the near future, and plans to unveil a new variety of strawberry later in 2024.

Ariel view of the Amatelas Farm. Image credit: Oishii

‘We run towards problems once thought to be impossible to solve’

Oishii stands somewhat alone right now in the world of vertical farming, an industry that has toppled from its days high $100-million-plus fundraises and sky-high valuations.

Koga, who saw a similar boom-and-bust trajectory a decade ago in Japan says the crash was “completely anticipated.” Because of that, Oishii has always “prioritized taste over timelines.”

“We’ve always had a five-year or 10-year strategy roadmap,” he says. “We never optimized for [raising] money in the next two years and trying to convince investors on a much shorter timeline or returns because it’s not realistic.”

“We run towards problems once thought to be impossible to solve,” he says of the sophisticated new facility. “In just two years, we’ve developed technological breakthroughs now in use at Amatelas Farm that make our growing process significantly more efficient, yet just as delicious. Our desire to maintain this exponential rate of innovation is driven by a deeply human need: we see vertical farming as a critical part of the solution to our failing agriculture system.”

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