The Hague / Tel Aviv – The challenges posed by urbanization and the gradual decrease in arable land are pushing agriculture further inland.
The agro-technological start-up Future Crops, Ltd. developed the first indoor vertical farming system that grows its crops in a unique soil substrate composition, bringing this emerging farming concept closer to home and the land.
The Israeli-Dutch company has established an 8,000 m2 fully automated indoor vertical farm in Westland, the Netherlands, Europe’s “greenhouse hub”. The nine-story facility is powered primarily by solar energy and combined with high-precision agricultural technology. It can provide optimal growing conditions for a wide variety of leafy vegetables and herbs.
The CEO and co-founder of Future Crops, Gary Grinspan, attests that this method of cultivation not only provides quality fresh produce, but also allows the products to regain their original characteristic taste and aromas which have been degraded after decades of pesticide use and industry pressure to focus on increasing output. The advanced technology of Future Crops maximizes yield per unit area compared to traditional farming, without compromising on quality.
The company uses innovative data-driven technology to tailor the ideal environmental conditions for crops to thrive in a highly controlled automated structure. The system controls dozens of growing condition parameters, including humidity, temperature and lighting to create optimal climatic conditions suitable for each crop.
Grinspan likens its technology to a “plant whisperer”. “Plants will get what they need from nature,” he explains. “Our team of agronomists are able to ‘listen’ to each plant to determine its individual needs in real time – how much ‘sleep’ vs. light, type of light, air quality, amount of light. ‘water, specific nutrient requirements, etc. plants “respond” in their own unique language, expressed in small nuances such as changes in morphology, shape, size and color. Using these signals, our algorithm can be primed to provide plants with exactly what they need at every stage of their life cycle. “
The crops are grown in a soil-based substrate. “We put together a unique soil-type nutrient-enriched bed recipe to cultivate all of our produce to keep them as close as nature intended,” Grinspan continues. “We learned from nature and didn’t want to change its rules. Our system can constantly grow a full range of herbs and leafy microgreens throughout the year, completely free of pesticides or biological substances, and without any dependence on climatic conditions.
Rethinking the agricultural value chain
Experts around the world are warning of food shortages due to a growing population expected to exceed 10 billion over the next decade. The lack of availability of fertile land dedicated to crops will soon put the planet to the test. This is further compounded by the climatic instability which threatens many cultivars. These trends have challenged the agriculture industry to rethink the agricultural paradigm in a way that enables greater productivity in a more sustainable manner and with less use of resources. In addition, the combination of environmental, logistical and geopolitical bottlenecks is stimulating initiatives to bring food sources closer to home.
High-tech vertical farming offers a way to achieve large agricultural yields in a limited space. Crops grown on the Future Crops Vertical Farm have demonstrated a longer shelf life and reach full growth in much less time, allowing for multiple growth cycles. This dramatically shortens the farm-to-table supply chain by several weeks, including reducing food mileage.
Start-up obtains US $ 30 million in first funding round
Following a family tragedy, Gary Grinspan left a long corporate career with major CPG food companies, including PepsiCo and Unilever. Wanting to devote his energies to improving the world, he created Future Crops.
The company was founded in 2016, in conjunction with the Israel Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) and A&F Ventures, a private equity arm run by the Lerman family, leaders in the US steel industry. The company secured US $ 30 million in its first round of funding, providing a significant share to advance its efforts to transform the agricultural value chain.
The company has sealed an R&D joint venture with Nativ Dudai, PhD, and David Haimovitch, PhD, both of the Israel Agricultural Research Institute (ARO), where Dudai heads the Medicines and Aromatics Unit.
“The resilience of the food system is at the heart of Future Crops’ vision and the key to building a better future for generations to come,” says Dudai, PhD. “It’s time to reassess the way we use our natural resources, to provide clean and sustainable crops and ensure food security. “
Future Crops currently manages supply contracts with a leading food retailer in the Netherlands and with other world-class retailers in Europe.