Because the package of BrightFarms arugula said, “This arugula was grown by your local farmer Jason Jackson,” I bought it. But then I was amazed that the fivethirtyeight podcast that I later listened to during my daily walk focused on BrightFarms.
And the story gets even better.
Where are we going? To farm productivity.
A BrightFarm is not your normal farm. They design, build and operate indoor farms in huge greenhouses. The good thing about a greenhouse is that the weather really does not matter. Indoors, you can control your environment. But the question is how and a new firm, Agrilyst, had some answers.
Agrilyst designed software through which sensors monitoring inputs could work together. Depending on the crop, its growth stage and a host of variables, the sensors determine optimal humidity, air circulation and temperature. They vary light levels to take advantage of peak energy pricing and keep an eye on CO2 levels. Meanwhile, all the farmer needs is her phone and an app.
This is one of the displays on the farmer’s phone:
And here is Agrilyst explaining what they do:
Indoor farming is year-round. Located near the supermarket, its produce has a longer shelf life because little time is allocated to transport. So, you’ve got cost effectiveness, you’ve got quality and you’ve got control. My excellent arugula was the result.
Most crucially though, you have a growing use for big data that could optimize productivity on all farms.
I wonder whether algorithmic innovation will continue the trends that have propelled U.S. agriculture during the past century.
Farm output is up:
Farm population is down:
Farm size is up:
Our Bottom Line: Malthus
Perhaps one of the first environmentalists, Reverend Thomas Malthus told us in 1798 that population grows geometrically while resource production expands arithmetically. He thought that resource prices will rise and supply will become increasingly inadequate. Instead new technology has brought monumental strides in agricultural productivity.