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Vertical farming startup Plenty acquires Bright Agrotech to reach ‘field scale’

June 13, 2017

California-based vertical farming company Plenty, previously See Jane Farm, has acquired Bright Agrotech in an effort to reach “field-scale.”

Bright Agrotech is an indoor ag hardware company that’s focused on building indoor growing systems for small farmers all over the world, in contrast to Plenty, which is aiming to become a large-scale indoor farming business and currently has a 52,000 sq. ft farm in South San Francisco.

“The need for local produce is not one that small farmers alone can satisfy, and I’m glad that with Plenty we can all work toward bringing people everywhere the freshest food,” said Nate Storey, founder and chairman of Bright Agrotech.

The move to acquire Bright Agrotech will give Plenty the breadth of expertise and intellectual property (IP) to scale with rapid speed, and is a natural move after a four-year relationship, according to Matt Barnard, cofounder and CEO.

“We have a great portfolio of system level IP. They have a great portfolio of component level IP,” he told AgFunderNews. “We’re getting a fire hose of demand from around the globe right now. This is an industry that is emergent, but the way to truly lift it off the ground is to do a whole set of things extraordinarily well.”

Bright Agrotech was founded in 2010 in Laramie, Wyoming, and sells a wide range of indoor farming equipment for indoor vertical farms as well as greenhouses along with smaller systems suitable for homes and business development tools – most of which are under the trademark brand “ZipGrow.”

The relationship between the two businesses started in 2013. Later Storey, the former CEO of Bright Agrotech, became chief science officer at Plenty in a part-time capacity in 2015 and went on to join the team full time earlier this year.

Barnard would not confirm to what extent Plenty already uses Bright Agrotech’s hardware in its farm, which consists of 20-foot high towers with vertical irrigation channels and facing LED lights. Leafy greens ready for picking end up looking similar to a solid wall of green.

Plenty claims to use 1 percent of the water and land of a conventional farm with no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Like other large soilless, hi-tech farms growing today, Plenty says it uses custom sensors feeding data-enabled systems resulting in finely-tuned environmental controls to produce greens with superior flavor.

Based on the West Coast, it plans to compete with the existing supply of greens from the salad bowl of California, by choosing premium seeds and catering growing conditions for optimal taste. Barnard says most greens growing in the field are bred to be hardy enough to last the 3,000 mile journey to the east coast and beyond.

He would not share specific growth goals for the near-term, but said that eventually they expect to be able to build two to six farms per month. The plan is to build these farms just outside major cities where retailers have distribution centers and real estate is more affordable. Barnard also said that an announcement about a major retail partnership is forthcoming. 

Zack Bogue, an investor in Plenty through San Francisco venture capital fund Data Collective, agreed that the Bright Agrotech acquisition will help the startup scale. “By vertically integrating parts of their component supply chain, it will make the most efficient system out there more efficient,” he said.

Plenty claims to get 350 times the crop yield per year over an outdoor field farm. Or, as Barnard described, “It is the most efficient in terms of the amount of productive capacity per dollar spent, period.”

Plenty was the first indoor ag investment for big data-focused Data Collective, which participated in its $24.5m Series A in July 2016. “We’re pretty excited about that space because some of the hardest problems in agriculture are now lending themselves to an algorithmic or computational or applied machine-learning solution,” he said. But he added that the ability to scale was paramount, because scale is what allows data to be useful for machine-learning applications. “I came away feeling this was an endeavor that could truly achieve global scale pretty quickly,” he added.

Bogue said that though this match was a natural fit, he doesn’t expect more consolidation in the space.

Plenty has raised $26 million to date in a seed and Series A Round, both in 2016. The startup’s other investors are Innovation Endeavors , Bezos Expeditions , Finistere Ventures, Data Collective, Kirenaga Partners,  DCM Ventures, and Western Technology Investment.

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