The Van Trump Report

“Infarm” Successfully Grows Wheat Indoors

Vertical farming company “Infarm” says it has successfully grown wheat inside an indoor farm. Infarm, which claims to be the first vertical farming company to attempt staple crop production in a controlled environment, says the wheat achieved yields 26 times higher than current farming practices average.

According to Infarm, initial trials of indoor-grown wheat yielded 11.7 Kg per square kilometer per year. Infarm says at scale, that’s the equivalent of 117 metric tons per hectare, which works out to nearly 1,740 bushels per acre (bpa)…and yes, that sounds absurd. Global wheat yields currently average around 4.5 metric tons per hectare, or approximately 67 bushels per acre. In the US, we average closer to 46 bushels per acre. 

Infarm says the difference is in how many growing cycles they achieve per year. From what I understand, they get six harvests from the indoor crop, as opposed to one for wheat grown in an open field. Guy Galonska, CTO and co-founder of Infarm, says the company believes it can increase yields on the indoor crop by a further +50% in coming years. Galonska is also confident the technology can be deployed at scale. 

As many in agriculture have pointed out as this story has circulated, it sounds somewhat similar to what we witnessed in livestock production as more animals were moved to a more controlled indoor environment.

Infarm and other vertical farming companies have proven their concept works well for foods with short growing cycles such as leafy greens, tomatoes, berries, and other produce. For those not familiar, vertical farms occupy spaces such as buildings or shipping containers. Most use little to no soil while touting water use that is anywhere from 70-95% less than outdoor-grown crops. Since the crops are grown indoors, there is no need for pesticides and less risk of contamination from things like water runoff and animal feces.

Indoor farming raised over $1 billion in 2021, exceeding the combined funding generated in 2018 and 2019, and the industry is expected to grow to $9.7 billion worldwide by 2026. It’s easy to understand the appeal in a world threatened by severe drought, extreme weather, and the recent pandemic that roiled supply chains. Critics, though, have questioned how vertical farming can be a solution for feeding a world that gets most of its calories from staple crops like wheat, rice, corn, etc. So it makes sense that indoor farming companies would start exploring the potential for row crops.
One of the biggest drawbacks of indoor farms is the massive energy needed to run them, which critics say makes the technology not only expensive but far less eco-friendly than their marketing might suggest. Fossil fuels burned to grow a pound of lettuce in a vertical farm produce 8 pounds of CO2. Even with renewable energy sources, the cost is still high. Solar conversion to electricity isn’t very efficient, so it takes more than nine acres of solar panels to light one acre of crops in a vertical farm.

However, I can see how that might be way down the list of concerns for countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and others in the Middle East that have plenty of money and energy but little arable land and dwindling water supplies. They have already built some of the largest vertical farms in the world over there with plans to sink billions more into the technology. If big-pocketed importers are motivated enough to secure domestic food supplies, growing wheat in desert greenhouses might not be that far-fetched. (Infarm, JustFood, USDA, University of Wisconsin Madison)

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