Iron Ox, a company best known for its robotic greenhouses, announced this week it had broken ground on a new facility, a 535,000 square-foot indoor farm in Lockhart, Texas. This is the third farm from Iron Ox, which is based in California and operates two other farms in that state.
All Iron Ox farms are equipped with hydroponic grow systems as well as robotics, the latter being a mobile transport system that can move trays of produce as well as tend and harvest plants via a robotic grasper. Farms are semi-autonomous, with humans still needed to inspect plants and prune them.
The company says the forthcoming Lockhart farm will grow leafy greens, herbs, berries, and vine crops, and anticipates delivering its first harvest by the close of 2021. Select chefs and food retailers in Texas will be the first recipients of that harvest. The company says the new farm will serve several cities in the state thanks to its proximity to Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. The new farm will also create roughly 100 new jobs in the region.
Constructions of high-tech greenhouses are happening all over the country right now, with Element Farms, AppHarvest, Little Leaf Farms, and others building or planning to build new facilities. Unlike vertical farms, these greenhouses still rely on sunlight (usually supplemented by some LEDs) as their primary source of lighting. And there’s plenty of sunlight to be had in Texas.
Technology like data-collecting sensors as well as AI systems are increasingly a part of these greenhouse operations, though robotic arms for harvesting crops are a little less common right now. However, AppHarvest recently acquired Root, which makes a crop-harvesting robot, suggesting a future for greenhouses that includes much more in the way of robotics. For its part, Iron Ox has said before that it would like its farms to one day be fully autonomous.
As with other high-tech greenhouse setups, automation in the Iron Ox farms helps to ensure consistency in the crops, better quality plants, and ultimately tasty veggies for consumers.