American farmers and agricultural companies have always been global leaders. This has never been as important as it is today. As billions of people worldwide enter the global middle class, their desire for fresh fruits and vegetables will rise commensurately. Our current agriculture system cannot cultivate enough food to meet the demand of the world’s growing population. The Farm Bill presents an enormous opportunity to invest in a critical part of the future of American and global agriculture – indoor farming.
Burgeoning demand and new innovations have put indoor farming on the verge of a momentous breakthrough. In the coming years, indoor farming will become an indispensable contributor to world agriculture. It will feed billions of people with cutting edge, data-driven growing techniques. Countries and companies all over the world are competing to see who will lead this industry. This Farm Bill is a crucial opportunity for the United States to invest before it’s too late. There is a bipartisan consensus that American agriculture policy should promote U.S. leadership in the industry, and indoor farming should be no different.
In the past few years, indoor farming has matured from an activity for hobbyists to an industry undergoing incredible transformation and growth. Its footprint now covers all 50 states, from small operations to large-scale farms that are hundreds of thousands of square feet growing millions of pounds of produce each year.
American indoor agriculture is well-positioned to continue this pace of tremendous growth in the coming years, but both governments and investors in nations like China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are already signaling their intention to compete in this space – and they’re putting up hundreds of billions of dollars to do it.
In 2009, the Japanese government began investing 15 billion yen ($135 million) in indoor agriculture. And, in 2016, the Chinese government-owned agricultural development bank announced it would invest $450 billion by 2020 to modernize China’s agriculture industry, increase efficiency and foster rural income growth. A Chinese company has even begun opening farms in the United States, while announcing an intention to invest $1 billion in indoor agriculture.
In the Middle East, a small U.S.-based company just announced a $40 million partnership with one of the world’s largest airline catering operations, the state-owned Emirates Flight Catering, to build one of the world’s largest vertical farms in Dubai. The facility will produce three tons of food each day, which will be used for in-flight meals at Dubai International Airport, the world’s largest airport by passenger traffic.
Some of our own companies are also planning to open indoor farming facilities in the Middle East and Asia in the coming years as a result of growing consumer demand and limited supply of fresh produce in those regions – as well as favorable conditions that engaged governments and investors have created.
Indoor agriculture needs to be on a level playing field with all other forms of agriculture here in the United States because other countries are already investing heavily in this cutting-edge industry. To take American leadership to the next level, indoor agriculture companies should have access to and the ability to compete for Farm Bill programs and resources on a level playing field.
Several pieces of the Senate-passed version of the bill, if enacted into law, would send a strong signal that the U.S. is ensuring indoor agriculture leadership develops here at home. We support the creation of an “Office for Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production” or similarly named new office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Such an office, along with the advisory committee included in Section 12302, would benefit indoor agriculture companies large and small along with other emerging food and ag technologies and practices.
Additionally, updating the Rural Energy for America Program, as designated in the amendment from Senators Wyden and Enzi in the Senate-passed bill, would support installation of energy efficient equipment and encourage investing in, building, and updating current and future agricultural infrastructure. This will increase business opportunities, create jobs, and improve energy use in rural areas and for agriculture producers across the country.
By including indoor agriculture production in public agricultural research, education and extension activities, as described in Section 7212, the Farm Bill can create new opportunities to test ideas and techniques that will lead to more productive agriculture.
This builds on how companies like Plenty, BrightFarms, and Bowery are investing our own resources in research and development to scale and become American leaders in indoor agriculture. We see tremendous potential for our industry to work with public and private researchers to deliver new insights and innovations that benefit all types of agriculture.
Small updates to Farm Bill programs will enable the critical investments in infrastructure and research necessary to take this industry to the next level. Companies like Bowery, BrightFarms, and Plenty will be able to create more technology-forward farming jobs in growing urban, ex-urban, and rural areas. These updates will also benefit smaller growers, like those coming out of Upstart University, which serves approximately 1,000 farmers across North America, and programs like Square Roots.
As the conference committee members continue their work, we urge them to consider these updates to the Farm Bill, as well as other opportunities that secure American agriculture’s leadership role on the international stage for the challenges ahead.