Reuters reports that investments in global indoor farms totalled a record-high $500 million in 2020, AgFunder research head Louisa Burwood-Taylor said.
Proponents, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), say urban farming increases food security at a time of rising inflation and limited global supplies. North American produce output is concentrated in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, including California, which is prone to wildfires and other severe weather.
Climate-change concerns are also accelerating investments, including by agribusiness giant Bayer AG, into multi-storey vertical farms or greenhouses the size of 50 football fields.
Investors used to brush off Amin Jadavji’s pitch to buy Elevate Farms’ vertical growing technology and produce stacks of leafy greens indoors with artificial light.
“They would say, ‘This is great, but it sounds like a science experiment,’” said Jadavji, CEO of Toronto-based Elevate.
Now, indoor farms are positioning themselves as one of the solutions to pandemic-induced disruptions to the harvesting, shipping, and sale of food.
“It’s helped us change the narrative,” said Jadavji, whose company runs a vertical farm in Ontario, and is building others in New York and New Zealand.
They are enabling small North American companies like Elevate to bolster indoor production and compete with established players BrightFarms, AeroFarms and Plenty, backed by Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos.
But critics question the environmental cost of indoor farms’ high power requirements.