$269 million investment dollars have been pumped into ag and food startups just this year according to the Seattle Times. In terms of investment dollars, in 5 years, ag-tech could be one of the best funded industries of all.
Where is that money coming from? “The food sector is wasteful and inefficient,” said Ali Partovi, a Bay Area investor with large stakes in sustainable agriculture startups. “Silicon Valley has a hubris that says, ‘That’s stupid. Let’s change it.’ ”
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Singapore may be the most important country in the world for vertical farming right now.
Corporate giant Panasonic’s new project debuted just this week and challenges exactly what the country knows about its food supply.
Inside Panasonic’s new farm
This is a monster blog post, but there’s a lot of information synthesized here you won’t find anywhere else. I’m going to walk you through why Singapore is important, then I’m going to show you what is happening there with Panasonic and another company called Sky Greens, and then I’m going to explain what that might mean for the evolution of urban vertical farming.
No scholar could come up with a better hypothetical test case for vertical farming than the realities in Singapore. Key conditions indicating the success or even the possibility of an industrial vertical farm include:
- Dense and urban population (Singapore is an island a little more than 3 times the size of Washington, DC with a population of 5.6 million people. Their population is 100% urbanized)
- Production proximity to market (New, government-sponsored industrial parks allow companies to build their businesses on the island)
- Existing infrastructure (Singapore is a developed, high-tech country whose purchasing power parity ranks 41st in the world)
- Cheap energy (Energy is reliable and affordable, especially when supplemented with renewable resources)
- Legislative Support (Singapore’s government not only has the laudable sustainability goals of 20% self-sufficiency in the coming years, but also established a 20 million dollar fund to boost domestic food production. This helps enormously in the face of insane vertical farming start-up costs.)
- Local Demand (Expensive imports from China and Japan currently fill Singapore’s supermarkets. Singapore only produces 7% of the produce it consumes.)
Singapore embodies each of these conditions better than almost anywhere else on the planet and I’d be hard pressed to argue that what works here, in this first battleground, is not going to affect the rest of the vertical farming industry. To see what might be working, let’s first look at the older of the two companies, Sky Greens.