The growth potential is high in the burgeoning vertical and indoor farming field, but so are the unique challenges. Notably, there is a significant gap in the availability of seed solutions tailored to these specific environments. That’s where companies like Unfold come into play.
Unfold’s mission is to streamline and enhance production by providing customized seeds for vertical and indoor farming operations. The company’s portfolio includes five crops and caters to industry partners such as Good Leaf Farms, Bowery Farming, and Sustenir. This underscores the growing demand for specialized seed solutions in the sector.
However, the transition to more diversified indoor farming crops may take 3-5 years to become commercially viable, according to Purcell, an expert in the field.
The process of developing these specialized seeds, however, often needs to be understood. Unfortunately, many conflate it with genetically modified organism (GMO) techniques commonly used in crops such as soybeans or wheat. Narasimhamoorthy, a plant scientist, explains that modern plant breeding techniques are more like intricate puzzles that scientists must solve.
Today, these puzzles are increasingly solved with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). “We input relevant data, including phenotype, genotype, and growing environment data, and build algorithms that can predict the outcome,” explains Narasimhamoorthy.
As a result, the role of plant breeders today is rapidly evolving to resemble that of data scientists, as they leverage AI and machine learning to expedite the plant breeding process.
Controlled environment agriculture (CEA), as practiced in indoor and vertical farms, offers significant advantages over conventional agriculture regarding plant breeding. For example, new plant varieties in CEA settings can be developed in as little as 2-4 years, compared to the 6 to 10-year timeframe typically associated with conventional agriculture.
The integration of data science and traditional plant breeding methods is revolutionizing agriculture. As a result, experts enhance crop productivity and sustainability, leading to a more robust food system.
Amid the global quest to secure food supplies and circumvent supply chain disruptions, such as those recently experienced in Ukraine, some companies have begun exploring the cultivation of staple crops like wheat and potatoes within vertical farms.
As the vertical and indoor farming sector continues to evolve, companies like Unfold are leading the way, leveraging cutting-edge technology and innovative approaches to sow the seeds of a sustainable future.
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Image provided by Unfold