Dr. Adrian Percy, Head of Research & Development, Crop Science for agribusiness giant Bayer AG will join the panel for the ‘Investor Debate – What Type of Capital Does This Sector Need to Grow?’ Ahead of that session, we asked him to share his views on the opportunities for indoor and vertical farming.
What appeals most to you about the indoor sector, for investment and collaboration?
We see ourselves as a collaboration partner rather than a financial investor at the current time. We have a traditional strong presence, particularly in Vegetable Seeds, where indoor and vertical farming play a huge role. However, there are clear benefits for Bayer in terms of adapting potential inputs (seeds and biological products), as well as investment in new breeding approaches for the indoor sector.
We clearly recognize that there are highly specific requirements that these systems pose towards their inputs. While classical crop protection products designed for open field farming are likely to play a minor role in these systems, we see great potential for biological products and new crop efficiency tools (e.g. microbiome-based products) that actually have proven to work best under controlled conditions. Additionally, next-generation breeding for specific traits that arise with these new farming methods such as growth speed, nutrient uptake and photosynthetic ability – 24h UV illumination in indoor farms, hydroponic/aeroponic farming – makes the sector even more attractive. In fact, modern plant breeding facilities have high similarity with a “highly automated indoor farm”, which opens the door to jointly develop and share technology and know-how across traditional and indoor operations.
With the impact and contribution to the food chain that modern indoor and vertical farming agriculture production systems have today, Bayer sees an enormous future potential for this sector. Direct supply of fruit and vegetables (leafy greens) to consumers with short transportation routes and improved ecological footprint is only one prominent example of the potential for indoor farming.
What differentiates new indoor and vertical farming opportunities compared to traditional open field agtech?
All approaches share a common objective: To optimize consumer benefits, yield and resource efficiency. In open field agriculture, new technologies clearly drive a trend from managing a field/culture to managing individual smaller sections in order to further optimize the crop production potential. This is done with the aid of digital approaches, smart input application and clever prediction methods, in combination with the next generation of optimized seeds and crop protection.
Compared to traditional open field agtech, new indoor and vertical farming approaches particularly set themselves apart with one key characteristic: A (much) more controlled environment. A controlled environment (and even potentially closed system like indoor farming) creates huge opportunities in managing plant health at a completely new level – down to each single plant. This brings these systems to the forefront to help develop speed of automation and data usage for all of the agriculture production system. The potential to transfer Digital Agriculture learnings and approaches to the open field and vice versa can be enormous.
Also very important to me is the sustainability perspective: How can we establish and control minimum input “self-sustaining” indoor and vertical farming systems? Both platforms require new and different inputs where the agtech industry has much expertise, going beyond seeds and crop protection. Answers to this question could open windows for completely new business opportunities, for example in the areas of nutrition or hydration systems.
Adrian will join the panel discussion for the ‘Investor Debate: What Type of Capital Does This Sector Need to Grow?’ on Friday June 21 at 10:15am. The session is chaired by Joel S. Marcus, Executive Chairman & Founder of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. / Alexandria Venture Investments, with colleague and Chief Science Officer, Lynne Zydowsky.
Sanjeev Krishnan, Managing Director and CIO, S2G VENTURES, USA
Adrian Percy, Head of Research & Deveopment, Crop Science, BAYER, GERMANY
John Dombrosky, CEO, AGTECH ACCELERATOR, USA
Carl Casale, Board Member, SYNGENTA, USA