Agtech AMPLIFIED: CubicFarms launches 'local chain ag-tech'
The new category of agtech signals an exciting time for both the local company and the field overall.
The last time I navigated the roundabout-laden street Airport Way to Sky Hangar in Pitt Meadows, I was en route to a wedding. At a more recent event, even though my blood alcohol level was lower, my excitement was just as high. The spectacle, known as Amplified, was hosted by local agtech firm CubicFarms to launch a new category of agtech: local chain ag-tech.
“Just like Uber launched rideshare as a category, we're launching local chain ag-tech [as a category]. I think people will find it fascinating that it is a homegrown category being launched right here and it's a category we think is just now being embraced by the world. I was on a call this morning: the World Congress for Vertical Farming. So, it was 16 other CEOs of the world's largest indirect agricultural companies. Our language is now being adopted,” Dave Dinesen, CubicFarms’ CEO, said, teasing the event when we spoke last month.
Breakthrough innovations are sometimes dubbed the greatest thing since sliced bread. In agtech circles, like those in Dinesen’s Rolodex, sliced bread was replaced by vertical farming—the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers, oftentimes in a controlled environment. Cubic Farms is now striving to craft the greatest thing since vertical farming in agtech. The innovation? Local chain ag-tech.
As the name suggests, this new category of agtech is exemplified by a shortening of supply chains and a focus on growing more with less movement in an area that needs less space. “Our technology is 52 times more land efficient than traditional farming. So, one CubicFarm module would grow the same as an entire football field of land. Our local chain technologies — they shorten the supply chain, they minimize resource use and they maximize every cubic foot of space, thus the name CubicFarms,” Dineson told Jim Gordon of MarketOne Minute. Work smarter, not harder exemplified.
“From a technical standpoint, obviously, what we're doing is creating this category, which is localizing at commercial scale. It’s really interesting because it's not putting farmers out of work. It's actually enabling and empowering farmers by giving them equipment that allows them to grow at scale locally,” Edoardo De Martin, CubicFarms’ CTO, told me.
“Then, what we deliver is our closed environments for agriculture. What's really important from a technology aspect is really building this ecosystem that allows the highest nutrient output of each plant that we grow. The math is basically taking the ecosystem of the world and putting it into this box. Then, modulating and regulating that through software, through a platform, to provide a great environment. One that's consistent, one that’s predictable, one that allows everyone to get the highest quality food, and one you can predict,” De Martin continued.
One of the agricultural pain points CubicFarms’ solution seeks to remedy is logistical. “We say we're creating a category, but it's really what our customers are saying: ‘I can't be dependent on these long supply chains, because they're not predictable.’ What we do is we give an opportunity for everybody to participate. That's what I love about our tech,” De Martin gushed.
Amplified featured a screening of a documentary-style film featuring Dinesen and a host of others from CubicFarms’ sphere. The cast of characters—CubicFarms executives, clients known as Farmer Partners, farm boy-turned-celebrity astronaut Chris Hadfield, amongst others—set the stage for agtech past, present and future.
One such innovation that will shape the future of agtech, thus local chain ag-tech, is an expansion of CubicFarms’ FreshHub.
“The CubicFarms FreshHub is the real breakthrough design of the ag-tech industry because it dramatically shortens the long supply chain and localizes food production,” Dinesen said of the innovation. “On just one acre of land, this new FreshHub will grow the equivalent of 100 acres of field production. We’re exponentially increasing commercial scale growing with a scalable solution that grows superior, more nutritious fresh produce without any pesticides or herbicides. Growing locally eliminates truckloads of produce arriving from far away, so the food that ends up on your table is affordable, better for you, stays fresher for longer, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.”
At Amplified, I also asked De Martin if he had gotten any sleep in what I presumed was a tireless lead-up to the event.
“Yes, because I need to prepare every day. But, I am super excited. What's wonderful about these kinds of events is we get to realize what it is we're working on, right? It really hits home that we are actually doing this. It's been a great few days to get to this point. But, the work is what's happening behind the scenes. That’s the most important,” he said.
De Martin, who joined the company from Microsoft in March, filled me in on not just the last few nights but the last few months.
“It's been great, absolutely tremendous. My background, before Microsoft, was with startups. Then, really, I did a startup within Microsoft, so to speak. Doing what I do every day here [at CubicFarms] is super interesting because Microsoft is one of the leading companies in sustainability. What I get to do in this company is really participate in that every single day. That gets me excited to come to work every day and to work with people that have that same passion and drive that we're actually going to change something,” De Martin shared.
This change is a shining light at a dark time for farmers. About halfway through the screening of Amplified, a pair of farmers appeared on screen. The two were straight out of central casting in the best possible way, unmistakably farmers. Both wore blue jeans. One was a larger man with an even larger belt buckle. The other enlisted suspenders to keep his jeans at the appropriate latitude. In the background, a farm ticked along. “All farmers need hope,” they concurred. Now, they said of local chain ag-tech, “we have hope.”
These days, hope is something we all could use a little bit more of.
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