After taking a brief tour of the facility and greenhouses, I had the pleasure to speak with arguably the father of the vertical farming industry, Dr. Toyoki Kozai.
“Plant Factories (at this point) will likely never be viable to grow large scale crops like wheat, corn and rice. But they could have a great impact on producing vegetables, medicinal herbs, cash crops and possibly fruits and nuts with dwarf tree varieties”.
Dr. Kozai was modest in our conversation, but his contributions to the industry have been immense. Since 1973, Dr. Kozai has helped pioneer the understanding of plant biology and physiology across different indoor growing systems. He has published dozens of academic studies documenting everything from the optimum light spectrum exposure to full automation with AI robotics.
While our conversation covered a dizzying array of industry topics, I wanted to briefly share his response to my question about the biggest continued issues in developing the industry. Since he is a premier thought leader, I was curious to know what challenges are anxiety provoking enough to keep him up at night and motivated to find solutions for.
Keeping up with different farming systems. There is no definitive growing guide to using different systems with the same plants — and sensitive quality controls can change drastically with increased space/density affecting airflow and light.
Scalability from an operations and business side is precarious since it is also based on the optimal size of a facility — and that is a factor that hasn’t been well defined either.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Dr. Kozai if he was optimistic about plant factories changing the food industry and he immediately prefaced his answer with a solemn “no”.
However he went on to explain that “Plant Factories (at this point) will never be viable to grow large scale crops like wheat, corn and rice. But they could have a great impact on producing vegetables, medicinal herbs, cash crops and possibly fruits and nuts with dwarf tree varieties”.
At the epicenter of indoor agriculture innovation, my visit to the JPFA highlighted the real shortcomings of a food industry often reimagined, rather than fully understood. Indoor agriculture faces many critical challenges before it can be truly revolutionary — let alone viable.
It is also much easier to understand why organizations like the JPFA are so critical for developing this early industry. With forefront concerns from industry leaders like Dr. Kozai on what cultivation practices even work, testing and collaboration are more necessary than ever.
By Jacob Eisenberg, Editor of Agri-Futures