Restaurants and grocery retailers are moving inland for produce amid water shortages and food security concerns

From restaurant menus to grocery store aisles, food prices are climbing, and the prospect of price hikes and looming droughts means these trends won’t go away anytime soon.

To guard against growing threats to food security, shortages and inflation, vendors and restaurants are turning to indoor farming – or farming methods that use machine learning algorithms and proprietary software. to create precise growing conditions.

“Indoor farmers say it’s a more stable and secure food supply chain,” FOX Business’s Lydia Hu told “Varney & Co”.

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Indoor or vertical farming stacks rows of plants on top of each other under lights that simulate the sun with hydroponic methods that can produce 12 growing seasons compared to two growing seasons for a traditional farm. The heat and droughts forecast for this summer are pushing the demand for locally grown food to new levels.

Bowery Farming, the country’s largest vertical farming business, can grow lettuce up to a hundred times more than a traditional farm, according to Hu.

As water scarcity on the West Coast is expected to wipe out crops and deplete production, grocery retailers are exploiting indoor alternatives like Bowery Farming, not only to obtain larger quantities of produce, but also to reduce costs. transport.

Over the past year, vertical farming has grown in popularity as the pandemic has driven demand for fresh, locally grown produce as customers become more aware of where their food comes from. Add to that the California wildfires that destroyed swathes of vegetation last summer have raised fears for the supply of agricultural products ahead of another record number of wildfires this summer. While the state is no stranger to the extreme heat conditions, this year’s outlook is expected to be one of the worst in four years, as a lack of water forces many farmers to leave their fields already unseeded. for the season.

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“Droughts are more frequent and people are more accepting of climate change,” AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg told FOX Business. “And when droughts and shortages increase every year, it makes the farmer’s job more difficult, which increases the stress from a safety point of view.”

California’s $ 50 billion agriculture industry provides more than 25% of the food nationwide, reinforcing the need for new agricultural alternatives and supply chain efficiency.

With indoor agricultural warehouses set up in major cities, products can be shipped within hours rather than days of travel. It also means that butter lettuce that would typically sit in a truck for days as it travels from the West Coast to the East Coast no longer loses its quality or nutritional value.

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AeroFarms, based in Newark, New Jersey, is located near urban centers to deliver product to large retail chains like Walmart and ShopRite, as well as fresh-to-drop options like Amazon Fresh that can be delivered. to customers within hours.

The company, one of the largest vertical farms in the world, uses aeroponics and LED lights to grow its produce, enabling the production of 2 million pounds of crops such as kale, watercress, arugula, red leaf lettuce, bok choy, mizuna and other young salad shoots per year. The growing process is done without sun, soil or pesticides and uses 95% less water than outdoor farms, making it a more sustainable and efficient option than traditional soil-based agriculture.

“It’s a much more efficient system because we basically get by doing less,” Rosenberg said.

AeroFarms plans to expand its high-tech domestic farms across the country and is expected to go public this month through a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) with a valuation of $ 1.2 billion. under the ticker symbol “ARFM”.

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While critics of indoor farming argue that products grown without land lose their healthy nutritional value, proponents say the technology can be used to refine plants to the highest quality.

“What stresses the plant is exposing it to more intense and longer light, so we are able to optimize this recipe as we control every aspect or input of the plant’s growth,” said at FOX Business Katie Seawell, Commercial Director of Bowery Farming. “And we are able to achieve the exact flavor profile that we want.”

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