The future of farming inside America’s largest greenhouse: Using robots, AI and data to grow 22,500 tons of tomatoes a year

Tram Ho

A small town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is home to the largest greenhouse farm in the United States. But more than just a large area, this farm has a high-tech operating system that uses robots, AI and data to grow 22,500 tons of tomatoes a year.

The world’s population will reach 10 billion by 2050 and the United Nations predicts that humans will need to produce 70% more food to feed billions of people.

 Tương lai của nông nghiệp bên trong nhà kính lớn nhất nước Mỹ: Sử dụng robot, AI và dữ liệu để trồng 22.500 tấn cà chua mỗi năm - Ảnh 1.

Jonathan Webb, founder and CEO of AppHarvest, believes AI-powered greenhouses will be a solution.

“We have to find a way to grow more food with so much less resources, in the midst of the climate crisis. We can do that using technology,” he said.

Control the environment

Built in 2020 on more than 200,000 square feet of land, AppHarvest says its current greenhouse produces 30 times more output than open ground and uses 90% less water.

Josh Lessing, Chief Technology Officer of AppHarvest said: “This farm allows you to control the light, temperature and nutrients of your crops. When you have a lot of control over the environment, you can do it. A lot of interesting things.”

LEDs are used to supplement natural light and the plants are grown without soil. Instead, a special plant medium will allow the roots to absorb water and nutrients.

This farm uses 300 sensors and AI, collecting data from more than 700,000 crops. Growers can monitor the microclimate remotely to ensure that the plants receive the right amount of nutrients and water. AppHarvest’s robot assesses which tomatoes are ripe enough to harvest, then selects and prunes them with their robotic arms.

“Building technology that predicts, controls crops, and creates an absolute food supply that allows us to grow locally and control our food. That’s an opportunity from robots and AI.” Mr. Lessing said.

 Tương lai của nông nghiệp bên trong nhà kính lớn nhất nước Mỹ: Sử dụng robot, AI và dữ liệu để trồng 22.500 tấn cà chua mỗi năm - Ảnh 2.

The impact of agriculture

According to WWF, global food production accounts for a third of greenhouse gases, 80% of deforestation, 70% of terrestrial biodiversity loss and 70% of clean water. However, a host of companies are looking for solutions.

Like high-tech greenhouses, “vertical farms” are growing in popularity. There, food is grown indoors, in vertically stacked beds without the use of soil or natural light.

In South Korea, the company NextOn operates a vertical farm in an abandoned tunnel at the foot of a mountain. American company AeroFarms plans to build a vertical farm of more than 8,000 square meters in Abu Dhabi. Berlin-based Infarm brings modular vertical farms directly to grocery stores, growing fresh produce in stores in Tokyo.

Professor Hon-ming Lam is a lecturer in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture, crops and agricultural biotechnology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He believes that growing greenhouse crops can help ensure food security. The professor also says that building greenhouses in places where there are no fields or near big cities, where the produce is consumed, can cut costs and carbon emissions.

However, Prof Lam says challenges remain. Greenhouses can successfully grow grapes and greens, but growing cereals and food crops is impractical.

He added that the large greenhouses used to be expensive to operate and required a lot of electricity. LED technology and improved insulation design have reduced energy consumption.

AppHarvest hopes in the future to improve efficiency, keep carbon emissions to a minimum and use renewable energy sources.

Recently, AppHarvest tomatoes can be found at grocery chains and restaurants across the United States. Their tomatoes are sold at market price.

In the coming years, MoreHouse Farm plans to grow other vines such as cucumbers or peppers. A new farm is being built in Kentucky to grow greens and coriander and other berries.

Mr. Lessing said: “Agriculture is one of the world’s biggest polluters. We are creating a new framework for how to restructure food supplies, reduce carbon emissions and create stability. “.

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Source : Genk