David Rosenberg: How Indoor Farms Revolutionize Agriculture

"The field farmers work to match the genetics to the field. Here we match the natural environment to the genetics."

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Hightech-Landwirtschaft quasi unter Laborbedingungen, aber in industriellem Maßstab: Aus den USA kommt ein neues Konzept, um das Ernährungsproblem mit Big Data anzugehen. David Rosenberg, Chief Executive Officer von AeroFarms, erklärt, was es mit dieser neuen Generation von Gewächshäusern auf sich hat. Und warum seine Kunden den Salat daraus am liebsten ohne Dressing essen.

Imagine hightech agriculture like in a lab but with industrial dimensions – a new idea of farming from the U.S. is trying to solve the world's food problem with the help of big data. David Rosenberg, Chief Executive Officer of AeroFarms, explains what this new generation of greenhouses is all about. And why his customers enjoy the experience of eating salad without dressing.

Jede Woche neu beim Stifterverband: 
Die Zukunftsmacher und ihre Visionen für Bildung und Ausbildung, Forschung und Technik

Autor: Timur Diehn
Produktion: Webclip Medien Berlin
für den YouTube-Kanal des Stifterverbandes

Das Interview entstand am Rande des Zukunftskonkgresses 2016 des 2b AHEAD ThinkTanks.

Transkript des Videos

We grow using 95 percent less water, 50 percent less fertilizers, zero pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.

Agriculture produces about 60 percent of our fresh water contamination. It also uses approximately 70 percent of our fresh water. So those are trends that are tough. Arable land, the world has lost are third of its arable land in the last 40 years. Population grows, trends in urbanization, and this category of food that we focus on, in the U.S. has approximately 62 percent spoilage. So there are inefficiencies in the current supply chain, and all these macro-trends that lead one to the conclusion that we need a new paradigm to feed our planet.

We grow without soil, without sun. As well our growth media is a type of cloth. We use a system of aeroponics which means we give nutrition to the root structure. The cloth barriers the pesticides, I mean the fertilizers, so the leaves have a very fresh experience, an uncontaminated experience. So we are able to harvest and sell without even washing. It's the washing component that often takes a contamination from a localized contamination to a widespread contamination, so by eliminating the washing process we also eliminate a major danger point where a contamination is spread to a macro-contamination.

From a nanoscience standpoint looking at the foundations and the earlier days of that company, when you work in a lab it's about isolating variables, testing assumptions and continuing from there. At Aerofarms in fully controlled agriculture we're able to do the same with plants versus imagine a greenhouse. Just sun, a cloud, less cloudy, that's a variable that's hard to control. With fully controlled agriculture we're able to isolate variables and really test our assumptions of what creates plants to grow in a certain way or a different way. And that allows us to really focus on the data and get as much out of it as possible. 

Today we are building our 9th facility. It's located in Newark, New Jersey. It is also the largest facility in the world. In it we grow leafy green vegetables, by leafy greens think kale, rucola, spinache, Asian greens, mustard greens. In fact we've grown about 250 different varieties. Part of our ambition is to bring back heirloom varieties that have been lost over generations.

We have free salads available for the people at our farms frequently. And also frequently people eat the salads without salad dressing. And it's not that at Aerofarms our people are so health-conscious, it's that we could create a potpourri of flavours of different varieties, peppery, bittersweet, different spices that carry the food itself that we don't need to put a lot of fatty salad dressings on top of it in addition. We want everyone to experience that. So we are constantly exploring with new varieties, and part of that is exploring, trying to connect with different breeders, seed breeders and encouraging that new experimentation that new variety showing with our market for these seeds that also our sometimes very hard to grow. So some plants the reason why they are not prevellant is because they are hard to grow and they can only be grown in some areas at very small parts of the year. At Aerofarms we can create that environment to make the seeds, to allow the seeds to grow year round.

Our productivity is approximately 75 times higher per square foot, square metre than a field farmer. To do this Aerofarms we've had to bring a couple or many disciplines together. So internally our team is made up of on the engineering side structural engineers, mechanical engineers, lighting engineers, electrical engineers, PLC engineers, process engineers, industrial engineers, then there are system engineers. And this group that works on the mechanical frames works closely with the biological side that's made up of crop biologists, crop visiologists, horticulturists, crop pathologists, molecular biologists that are working on the plant side. And we realize that these two have to work symbiotically.

So we are farming and we're creating technology, we're creating the mechanical structures what these systems look like and we use U.S. based matrix, so they are approximately 36 feet high in which there are 12 going on to 14 levels of growing, so approximately every yay high. There's another growth media, and they are growing in tunnels, about 80 feet long, about 5 feet wide on these trays. And the trays move down the tunnel, and we give the plant what it wants, when it wants it, how it wants it.

The field farmers work to match the genetics to the field. Here we match the natural environment to the genetics. We do work with some of the big agtech companies to optimize what seeds grow best in an indoor environment. And in the ourdoors you might specify a seed looking for drought resistance or pest resistance. And for us we look to maximize taste texture as well as yield. And we're able to enhance these qualities. So at Aerofarms we are very datacentric. We take approximately 30,000 datapopints from seed to harvest. For the biggest farm in the world we're building now that equates to about 24 million datapoints a day. And we have a team of data scientists that are looking at what are the links between what the plant gets and what the outcome is and really trying to understand plant biology to ultimately become better farmers and ultimately give the customer a better experience.