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8. September 2020

Startup: Bayer enters the vertical farming business

Bayer’s startup as a joint venture And already the next Anglicism creeps into the text: Joint venture. Roughly translated, it […]

Bayer’s startup as a joint venture

And already the next Anglicism creeps into the text: Joint venture. Roughly translated, it means “shared venture.” Two or more companies join forces and carry out a project together. In this case, it is Bayer and its major shareholder Temasek from Singapore. Under the illustrious name Unfold , almost 30 million US dollars are to be spent on vertical farming.

Even in biblical times, people wondered how the ever-growing population could have an unlimited supply of food. But what was bread and fish back then is fruit and vegetables today. But the basic problem is the same: the big cities are getting bigger and the call for more arable land can be heard everywhere. Jürgen Eckhardt, head of _Bayer’_s Leaps investment arm, says: “One of the big questions of our time is how we can feed the growing population with the available arable land. We strongly believe in relying on technology leaps to do that – and vertical farming is one of them.”

The Best Way To Predict The Future Is To Invent It

Computer scientist Alan Kay once said that. But this quote can easily be applied to vertical farming. You don’t even have to invent the future anymore, but take it directly into your own hands. This is because farming in big cities has become a lucrative and promising market.

But what exactly happens there? In vertical farming, food is grown under laboratory conditions in high-tech glass boxes on several levels. The advantage, which is almost obvious, is that farmers are no longer dependent on land and climate.

And the life cycle of a lettuce is now more like the proverbial comparison of apples and pears. Lettuce growth is subject to various aspects. On conventional arable land, different weather conditions or even pest infestation can occur. The lettuce planted in Vertical Farming grows under LED light, with appropriate irrigation, fertilization and temperature.

Agricultural companies hope that vertical cultivation will lead to faster and higher production volumes.

The vertical farming market is still young and full of potential, you just have to know how to harvest it. In investor circles, it is considered a promising technology. According to a forecast by the investment bank Barclays, the market potential of vertical farming spans up to 50 billion US dollars. Bayer’s manager Eckhardt also relies on this. Bayer has not yet collected its own figures.

Optimal seeds made by Unfold

The startup Unfold is entering a market in which the Berlin-based company Infarm also already plays a major role. Infarm relies on funding of around 100 million euros. It counts names such as Kaufland, Aldi Süd, Edeka and Metro among its customers.

Unfold wants to differentiate itself from this market through its own innovations in the seed sector. The joint venture startup plans to develop various varieties specifically geared towards vertical farming. This is where Bayer and Temasek shine with expertise: the former has already transferred a portfolio of seed varieties to Unfold and the latter has already invested in vertical farms that could become customers.

With this tailwind, Unfold could become a serious competitor for Infarm in the near future. Although it says the startup sees itself primarily as a supplier. It still keeps open the possibility of running its own vertical greenhouses. The current target markets are the USA and Singapore, where the offices of the joint venture are also located.

How’s the environment? – Prospects for the ecological balance sheet

Initially, Unfold plans to grow fruits and vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. The goal is clear: excellent taste and better nutritional values.

But_Bayer manager_ Eckhardt is by no means ignoring the environmental aspect. Unfold advertises a better eco-balance and lower resource consumption than conventional agriculture. Vertically grown vegetables require about 70 to 90 percent less water and up to 90 percent less growing space. Fewer pesticides and fertilizers are needed and the shortened transport routes mean a betterCO2 balance.

Vertical farming also has its disadvantages: Since irrigation and sunlight are artificially simulated, many vertical farms are real power guzzlers. Eckhardt has a solution for this. Depending on local conditions, solar panels on the roofs of vertical farms may be an option. Electricity generated in this way has a better eco-balance than conventional electricity from coal-fired power stations. What seems irrefutable from a marketing point of view is much more complicated in terms of theCO2 balance. So far, no startup that is at home in vertical farming has been able to deliver a result on the ecological footprint of a salad.

Nevertheless: In the end, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages:

  • Reduction of food loss and waste

  • short growing cycles for more flexibility in planting

  • fresh, consistent and locally grown produce for customers

Food production – No dreams of the future with Ehlert as supplier

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