There is only so much farmland in the world, and most of it is either already in use, no longer arable, or plowed over for development. One way around the problem is vertical farming, which involves growing crops in stacked layers – usually indoors, where farmers don’t have to worry about amassing more acreage or dealing with the weather.
Although vertical farming still occupies a small niche in the overall agriculture sector, it’s growing rapidly. The global vertical farming market size is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 25.5% over the next eight years and hit $33 billion by 2030, according to a report released earlier this year by Grand View Research.
In the United States, more than 2,000 vertical farms are already up and running.
That total should keep expanding as more agriculture companies look to indoor farming as a more efficient and eco-friendly alternative to traditional farming.
Two of the names making a big play are Gotham Greens, a New York-based indoor farming company that operates one of largest networks of hydroponic greenhouses in North America; and Plenty Unlimited, a California-based vertical farming company whose technology platform can help farmers grow fresh produce anywhere in the world and at any time of year.
On Sept. 12, Gotham Greens announced that it raised more than $310 million in new capital in a Series E funding round, bringing its total financing to $440 million since the company was founded in 2009. The round was Gotham Greens’ largest to date and was led by BMO Impact Investment Fund and Ares Management funds.
Two days later, Plenty Unlimited announced plans to build the world’s largest vertical farming campus on 120 acres near Richmond, Virginia. The $300 million campus will grow leafy greens, tomatoes, and other crops and start with a Driscoll’s strawberry farm in the winter of 2023-2024.
Funds from Gotham Greens’ latest round will be used to support new greenhouse projects currently under construction in Seagoville, Texas; Monroe, Georgia; and Windsor, Colorado.
Part of the money will also go toward expanding existing greenhouses in Chicago and Providence, Rhode Island, as well as future projects and acquisitions in other regions across the United States.
By 2023, Gotham Greens will own and operate 13 climate-controlled hydroponic greenhouses that span more than 40 acres across nine states. Its products are sold at over 3,000 U.S. supermarkets, including Whole Foods, Kroger, and Sprouts Farmers Market.
The company also recently acquired FresH2O Growers, a 540,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse grower in Stevensburg, Virginia. FresH2O leafy green salad products are sold in grocery stores across the Mid-Atlantic.
“With increasing climate and supply chain-related issues facing our food system, it’s more important than ever to bring innovative farming solutions that grow high-quality produce while using fewer precious natural resources,” Co-Founder and CEO Viraj Puri said in a press release. “Gotham Greens is growing fast, and we look forward to bringing our brand to new markets in the coming months.”
As Bloomberg reported, Gotham Greens’ operations allow it to use 95% less water than conventional field operations and 97% less land. One advantage Gotham Greens has over other vertical-farming companies is that its greenhouses use much less energy because they mainly rely on sunlight rather than artificial lighting. Nearly all of the energy Gotham uses comes from renewable sources.
Similarly, Plenty Unlimited uses 100% renewable power for its San Francisco farm. Its new project in Virginia is expected to produce up to 20 million pounds of produce a year and create 300 new jobs. The Plenty Unlimited campus will feature 30-foot climate-controlled, and pesticide-free grow towers designed to maximize light exposure for crops. Tall robotic arms will be employed to help tend the crops.
Plenty Unlimited also has operations in California and Wyoming that provide kale, mizuna, and arugula to Whole Foods and Instacart.
The company recently closed a $400 million Series E funding round to help finance expansion. It claims to get up to 350 times the yield per acre of traditional farms.
“We solve for the ability to have fresh produce, fruits, and vegetables, grown anywhere, pretty much for everyone,” said CEO Arama Kukutai in an interview with Bloomberg.
The Plenty Unlimited Driscoll farm in Virginia is designed to grow more than 4 million pounds of strawberries a year. When the first crop of Driscoll’s strawberries grown by Plenty becomes available in winter 2023-2024, they will be sold to retailers throughout the Northeast.