Driscoll’s, Plenty partner on vertical farm for strawberries

Dive Brief:

  • Driscoll’s and Plenty are building an indoor farm to grow the berry giant’s strawberries using the CEA firm’s vertical growing platform. The farm will supply strawberries to consumers in the Northeastern United States close to highly dense, urban areas, according to a press release.
  • The companies shared few other details on the new facility, including its exact location, size or production capacity. In an interview with CNBC, Plenty CEO Arama Kukutai said the farm will be operating by the end of 2023, and the partners hope to sell the berries in grocery stores by early 2024.
  • Since the two first partnered about a year ago, they have been growing Driscoll’s strawberries in Plenty’s Laramie, Wyoming, indoor vertical farm. The plan for the dedicated facility comes as other controlled environment agriculture firms expand into berries for greater growth.

Dive Insight:

Both Driscoll’s and Plenty benefit by partnering on a vertical farm dedicated to strawberries. For the berry giant, which already has made an unspecified “major investment” in Plenty, it provides an opportunity to tap into the food tech firm’s data analytics and machine learning expertise to boost yields potentially 150 to 350 times higher per acre than it could achieve in a conventional field setting, according to the companies.

Plenty can learn from the plant genetics expertise of Driscoll’s, which commands roughly a third of the North American berry market, and continue to prove the potential of its growing platform far beyond salad greens.

In a statement, Kukutai with Plenty noted that the partners targeted the Northeast because it is the largest berry consumption region in the U.S.

“Our partnership with Driscoll’s, coupled with Plenty’s optimized technology platform, ensures we can consistently grow premium berries closer to where these consumers live, providing fresh, consistent quality,” he said. “We’ve successfully leveraged the expertise of the world’s largest strawberry breeding program within Plenty’s own controlled growing environment, maximizing the flavor of each berry and optimizing for both texture and size.”

Other CEA companies have eyed the opportunities in growing berries as the leafy greens segment gets increasingly crowded. Manhattan-based vertical farming startup Oishii launched with a focus on strawberries. It claims to have a proprietary approach to pollinating the berries indoors through bees, and plans to develop new varietals of the fruit. In March 2021, it closed a $50 million funding round to help it build new strawberry farms in new markets.

New York City-based Bowery Farming plans to launch strawberries as a new product line this spring, supported by a massive $300 million funding round that it dedicated to building new farms and growing beyond leafy greens, kale and basil. In February, Bowery announced it had acquired Traptic, a company that uses AI, computer vision and robotic arms to harvest delicate crops such as strawberries and tomatoes.

And Montana-based Local Bounti, which just went public through a special purpose acquisition company, has said it may expand into berries to drive future growth.

Vertical farming offers the potential to move strawberry growing closer to the end consumer, lowering not only the crop’s environmental footprint but also saving costs for providers such as Driscoll’s. According to USDA figures, roughly 90% of the berries are produced in California, far from the densely populated East Coast cities that the company is targeting. This distance demands high fuel and transportation costs to ship the highly perishable produce across thousands of miles. Strawberries are also said to be one of the costliest crops to grow, in large part because the fragile fruits need to be planted and picked by hand. Being able to grow the berries in a more efficient, cost-effective setting makes them custom fit for vertical farming.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the headquarters of Bowery Farming. The company is based in New York City.

 

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