Among the world’s finite resources is land, which cannot be expanded to meet the needs of an ever-growing global population. This creates a challenge for food production, especially since agricultural land already takes up about 38% of the global land surface, according to a 2020 report from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
But there are alternatives to expanding the land surface. One is farming vertically – up instead of out – where there is plenty of room.
Vertical farming involves growing crops in stacked layers, usually indoors, where farmers can control the environment without worrying about what the weather outside is doing.
It’s a small but growing market, estimated at less than $2.4 billion globally in 2018 but projected to rise above $13 billion by 2026, according to data from EnviroTec Magazine. Vertical Future, a London-based provider of vertical farming technology and research, is among the companies angling for a piece of the market.
Vertical Future specializes in developing and deploying vertical farming hardware and software technologies. It operates six of its own indoor, soilless farms that grow crops with artificial light. Its website lists 20 pipeline projects, from supplying restaurants with produce to building vertical farms for others and providing advanced technology and research solutions.
The company was founded in 2016 with a small vertical farm in Southeast London and created a separate entity, called Minicrops, that grew and delivered fresh produce to hundreds of customers six days a week. Vertical Future has since raised more than 20 million pounds of capital (about $27 million) and now boasts operations in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Singapore, and the United States.
Its latest funding round took place on January 18, when it secured 21 million pounds ($29 million) in what the company called Europe’s largest-ever Series A fundraising in vertical farming.
Reuters reported that the round pushed Vertical Future’s overall valuation to $136 million. Investors included Pula Investments Ltd, environmentalist Gregory Nasmyth, Nickleby Capital, Dyfan Investment, and existing shareholder SFC Capital.
Vertical Future’s mission is to empower customers to grow to produce in a more sustainable way, and closer to the point of consumption.
“Our indoor vertical farms offer a cost-effective way to dramatically increase output and productivity per cubic meter, enhance nutrient profiles, and improve flavor – all through an approach that is completely free from pesticides,” Jamie Burrows, who co-founded the company with his wife, Marie-Alexandrine, said in a statement.
He predicts that in the next few years Vertical Future will be doing this work “at an industrial scale.”
Vertical Future’s co-founders bring different professional backgrounds to the company. Jamie Burrows, the CEO, previously worked at Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and the UK’s Department of Health. He earned a Ph.D. in Health Economics from Bangor University and also holds an Engineering degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Marie-Alexandrine Burrows, who serves as Chief Impact Officer, previously worked in health research with the UK’s National Health Service and in associated research units. She holds a Master of Science degree in Neuropsychology from Bangor University.
As of late January, Vertical Future was in advanced talks with several major British retail and logistics companies to accelerate its growth. The company looks to separate itself from the pack by meeting the needs of a wider group of end customers than its peers.
“Unlike others in the vertical farming sector whose technologies and ambitions are restricted to growing only premium-priced salad and microgreens for a premium domestic and restaurant market, we are aiming to feed everyday working families with fairly-priced, higher-quality produce,” Jamie Burrows said.