"Vertical farming works. You have to grow crops effectively, operate efficiently at the right cost, and deliver on your promises to consumers. If some of those components aren't there, then, sure, the business model doesn't work. That's true in any industry. But we're building a sustainable business, and we're doing it with help from the right partners. This farm was sold out as soon as it opened. The demand is real, and we're able to scale up to meet it because we have the right unit economics," the 80 Acres Farms team shares with VerticalFarmDaily.
F.l.t.r. Noah Zelkind (80 Acres Farms), Rocky Adkins, Mike Zelkind and Tisha Livingston (80 Acres Farms) and Meiny Prins (Priva)
As the teaser gave away, 80 Acres Farms officially opened its Florence farm in Kentucky on September 13, joined by Kentucky officials and partners that participated in the construction of the facility. It's the largest, most advanced, and most productive farm just yet, as the team shares, comprising 200,000 square feet (18,500m2).
"This farm is about three times the size of our previous largest farm, but it's four or five times as productive. Lessons from our previous farms and economies of scale are improving our yields dramatically, which makes this a viable business."
Built inside a former printing facility, the farm is a $95 million investment in Kentucky that will create 125 jobs in the state. "There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world," said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear during a preview tour on Tuesday. "I am so proud that this level of technology, where advanced manufacturing meets farming, is right here in Kentucky."
The latest salad kits
'Sister farm in Georgia'
80 Acres has just opened this new Kentucky farm, expanded from about 350 Kroger stores to nearly 1,000, and launched their new salad kits. On top of that, they are finishing another 200,000-square-foot farm in Georgia, so the team certainly has a lot on their plate right now.
"We're focused on follow-through. At the same time, we have a couple of active R&D facilities that are trialing new crops, and we're thinking about how to expand our network of farms to deliver local produce to more people," the team shared. "In the US, with the rise in food costs and the decline in trips to the grocery store, the value of fresh food lasting longer and wasting less has resonated with consumers."
What does this mean for the future of vertical farming?
When asked how they envision the vertical farming industry five years from now, the team explains that five years ago, they only had a small production farm. Now, 80 Acres is growing plants at a scale that was unimaginable back then and maybe even impossible. Therefore, it's hard for the team to predict the future for 80 Acres Farm and/or other vertical farming companies.
Adding onto that, "What we do know, though, is that our learning rate will accelerate as we build more farms, growing networks of high-tech facilities that can communicate with and inform each other. Across the industry, we need to keep pushing beyond lettuce to prove our utility. We need to find ways to efficiently scale up our existing crops, including tomatoes, and we need to keep introducing new ones."
Therefore, 80 Acres Farms sees potential in going beyond food, even using vertical farming technology to grow pharmaceutical and nutraceutical botanicals with historical consistency and precision."
"After a decade of high expectations and some resulting disappointments, we, as an industry, have developed the technology and infrastructure to deliver on our promises. The companies that are able to make it through this difficult time for the industry will transform agriculture and the world."