BrightFarms, which operates a network of greenhouses in the U.S., is launching an innovation and research hub at its Wilmington, Ohio headquarters, according to an announcement sent to The Spoon. Dubbed BrightLabs, the research facility will build on BrightFarms’ existing work growing leafy greens in a greenhouse setting aided by tech.
The company calls BrightLabs “one of the most advanced biotechnology ventures in the indoor farming industry” and one that will develop ways to improve the flavor, texture and yield of plants the company grows in its five greenhouses. Tech experts along with microbiologists and plant scientists will join the BrightLabs team, which will be led by Matt Lingard, formerly a Bayer greenhouse scientist. Lingard has recently joined BrightFarms as the VP of Agriculture.
One of BrightFarms’ biggest achievements to date is that it’s mastered the notoriously difficult task of growing spinach in a greenhouse (or any indoor ag setting). Spinach is especially susceptible to a certain kind of water mold, presenting a challenge for greenhouse and indoor ag operations that rely on hydroponic systems. BrightFarms says it already has proprietary research on the process of growing spinach indoors, and, via BrightLabs, aims to double the production of that particular crop.
Another notable aspect of BrightLabs is that the hub will allocate significant energy to studying plant microbiome, the natural bacteria that influences plant health. The company says it can do this because the greenhouses are powered by sunlight and so there is not a need to spend abundant R&D dollars on artificial lighting solutions (e.g., LEDs). “So instead of spending R&D dollars on finding expensive and energy-intensive artificial lighting solutions, we can zero in on how to simply grow better plants,” BrightFarms CEO Steve Platt told The Spoon. He added that BrightLabs plant scientists are developing proprietary ecosystems that will optimize plant microbiome to help crops flourish. “By putting the microbiome to work, we can do more of what we do best: grow great lettuce,” he said.
A recent survey found that many growers plan to add more LEDs in the future as well as climate control systems, and post-harvest automation tech. Plant microbiome did not factor into the report, and BrightFarms is still rather unique in its decision to focus on that as a means of increasing and improving yield.
BrightFarms said that the launch of BrightLabs means 10 percent of the company is now dedicated to developing “patented growing solutions” that will be applied across the company’s network of greenhouses. As noted above, there are currently five such facilities, one each in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, North Carolina, and Virginia. The company says that by the end of the year, its leafy greens will be available at over 3,500 stores.