San Francisco Bay Area-based vertical farming startup Plenty and well-known berry brand Driscoll’s announced a partnership today to grow strawberries year-round via controlled-environment indoor farms. The partnership will use Plenty’s indoor farming technology and incorporate Driscoll’s proprietary genetics for strawberries, according to a press release sent to The Spoon.
Plenty hinted at strawberries (and tomatoes) more than a year ago, when it unveiled its high-tech vertical farm Tigris. Currently, the company is best known for its mixtures of leafy greens, which it grows indoors via the hydronponic method. Plenty’s facilities also utilize sensors, LED light mixtures, and temperature and air control to create the optimal growing environment for plants.
Leafy greens are still one of the most common crops grown in these controlled-environment farms, and for a few of good reasons. For one thing, they’re one of the most popular produce types among U.S. consumers today. They are also far more delicate than, say, a mango, making it harder to transport them without spoilage. Leafy greens also yield more crop in a smaller space compared to something like a row of sweetcorn, and they can be harvested faster. Something like a strawberry takes more time to grow, and one profile of Plenty last year noted that it can take up to nine months to understand how a strawberry plant performs inside a controlled environment operation.
Lately, though, more ag tech companies have announced plans to grow more than arugula and herbs. Most notably, a Singapore-based company called SinGrow has employed its proprietary vertical farming tech to grow strawberries on a rack designed specifically for that fruit. SinGrow also creates its own strawberry breeds. Unfold, which just raised $30 million, has added cucumbers and tomatoes to its roster. Plenty itself said at the time of the Tigris launch that it wants to grow “exotic” fruits and vegetables, though as yet the company hasn’t named specific crops.
Strawberries aren’t exactly exotic, but for vertical farming, they are a logical next crop after leafy greens. Plenty’s home state of California produces over 91 percent of the country’s entire strawberry supply, and that fruit is also high on U.S. consumers’ lists.
To start, Driscoll’s will grow strawberries at Plenty’s Laramie, Wyoming facility. Driscoll’s Chairman and CEO J. Miles Reiter said in today’s press release that this partnership “will create a competitive market edge.” While that remains to be seen, one thing we can expect with a fair amount of certainty is that more companies will be growing strawberries via controlled environments in the months to come.