New company Urban Barns claims its system “is the highest-density mechanized machine in vertical farming we’ve seen in the world.”
When I first read that, I wanted to learn more immediately. It’s a bold claim, but it’s one that I’d be hesitant to validate. It also begs the question as to whether or not mechanization, as an end unto itself, is even necessarily a good thing. The bottom line is that success of a vertical farm is going to be determined by the ratio of inputs to outputs. Mechanization is only beneficial if it improves that ratio.
That doesn’t mean I’m not excited to see this. Skip through the marketing bit in this video to check out their system in action (note: since original posting they’ve changed the youtube link to a playlist. The original video is towards the bottom):
The system is very similar to the ‘ferris wheel’ Sky Greens uses, and I’d really like to be able to compare the efficiency of the two companies.
Unfortunately, the key metric Urban Barns measures its production by is “500 plants in less than one square meter.” Sky Greens does not measure its production in the same units.
However, I went to the grocery store, and just because it’s the kind of obsessed I am, I measured a few heads of lettuce. The average weight was about one pound. Sky Greens has claimed to produce about a ton a day; that’s about 2000 plants.
It’s still hard to say which business is more efficient. The Sky Greens campus measures 8.6 acres and their grow towers are 9 meters tall, but their total acreage is not devoted to those towers (or else we could make the needed conversions). Other variables, like the time it takes plants to go from seed to shipping at Urban Barns are also going to make a difference, as well as how large their facilities are overall. Additionally, Sky Greens licenses its technology so it might be that Urban Barns is just using a modified version of Jack Ng’s towers.
A lot remains to be seen, but I for one am excited for companies like these to keep evolving our conception of farming.
You can read the first story I saw about Urban Barns here.
By the way…
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