The drought gripping at least half of the country and disruptions in the global food supply chain have shined a spotlight on an old stalwart as a potential solution—greenhouses.
Technological improvements make this path all the more viable, having transformed today’s greenhouses dramatically from your grandparents’ outmoded indoor produce farms. High-tech advances range as widely as sensors to smart windows to highly efficient irrigation systems able to reduce water usage by more than 90% compared with traditional open-field farms.
The ultimate hope is that new greenhouse technology can help provide enough food to feed the planet as climate change–induced droughts become more common and stress food supplies. Models such as the Netherlands demonstrate the scale possible. Despite being about the size of Connecticut, the country has the second-largest agricultural output globally—due in large part to its advanced greenhouses.
For investors aiming to make an impact on climate change, backing greenhouse farming may offer significant dividends.
Technology Meets the Greenhouse
One overwhelming advantage to souped-up greenhouses—also called “controlled environmental agriculture” in modern parlance—is the ability to control lighting, temperature, and other environmental elements within the structure through technology such as machine-learning algorithms, harvesting automation, and proprietary software systems. These operations may also include a role for hydroponics, a method of growing plants not in soil but a nutrient-rich mineral solution.
Such improvements also allow for much greater scale. One 2.76 million-square-foot, 60-acre indoor farm in Morehead, Kentucky, uses 30,600 LED and high-pressure sodium lights to produce 3 million pounds of beefsteak tomatoes; the company has plans to open another 11 such high-tech greenhouses by 2025.
Startups have turned their attention and resources toward the greenhouse technology market as well. For example, Candidus Adaptive Lighting Control has a controller that monitors sunlight in real time, pinpointing the amount of additional light the platform needs. Based on that intelligence, the system turns lights on and off and ensures the crop gets just the right amount of light. Seawater Greenhouse uses cooling houses to grow crops in extremely hot, dry climates such as Abu Dhabi and Somaliland, relying on a system that produces water vapor from saltwater evaporation.
Investors Move In
The growing crisis has pressed impact investors to step up allocations to food and sustainable agriculture, including new greenhouse technology. A 2020 survey of investors by the Global Impact Investor Network found that 57% of respondents had allocated a portion of their portfolio to such holdings; 54% said they planned to increase that over the next five years.
Private equity investors are also taking note. For example, sustainable private equity firm Equilibrium Capital of Portland, Oregon, has raised more than $1 billion for its “Controlled Environment Foods Fund II.” Three times the size of the first fund, it will focus on new large-scale, high-tech, greenhouse-oriented agriculture.
Such investments could go a long way toward strengthening the global food supply chain in an increasingly drought-plagued planet as well as make a strong impact on climate change, helping to improve concerns from pesticide use to transportation to water run-off and beyond.