This year Indoor Ag-Con had new owners, a new venue, and a new feel. I liked the new schedule and the expo was busy on day 1. I didn't have a booth, so I can't judge the foot traffic, but overall, I heard the booths were busy.
Below are a few the of themes I walked away with. Please remember that there were five concurrent tracts and I picked the topics I found the most interesting. This list is far from comprehensive because there is only one of me. Hopefully, other attendees will share their highlights in the comments.
We need to focus on labor costs, energy costs, and seed varieties. -- Freight Farm: Brad Mcnamara Day 2 Keynote
Adding seed to this list was a noticeable change from previous years. I became a seed consultant for the indoor farming industry because there was a major lack of understanding in the role seeds play in a farm. Many farmers bought whatever seeds were available and seed companies were frustrated trying to explain seed basics to their clients. With my knowledge of both industries, I wanted to bridge this gap.
I'm not sure if indoor growers asked for more seed discussions this year or if the conference organizers know that this is an important topic and wanted to provide more exposure. Either way, it worked and people are talking about seeds.
Don't make technology a toy you put in your indoor system. SananBio: George Carter III
Automation and sensors are a huge part of indoor agriculture. Growers should evaluate any new technology they adopt and assess if it makes sense in their operation. Automation might be sexy and there are places that it can offer increased efficiency and lower costs. But it's also expensive. It requires people to manage and you need to hire highly skilled workers to manage the new technology.
One deep-water culture farmers shared that he timed manual raft washing and automated raft washing. The human was faster. If he used a machine, someone still had to operate the machine. He decided not to automate this portion of his operation.
There is an indoor growing learning curve.
Many companies have tried to develop turnkey systems that someone with no farming experience could operate profitably. The combination of art and science that goes into growing crops is creeping into conversations. Several professors pointed out that you need a degree and agriculture or a lot of hands-on experience to become a farmer. Companies are also investing a lot more time teaching their customers how to successfully operate these systems. No one wins, when a system fails.
New USDA funding will be available Dr. Steven Thomson, USDA/NIFA National Program Leader
The 2018 Farm Bill authorized new money for urban, indoor, and emerging agricultural production research. This is a new $10 million competitive grant program that will be administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). There is interest at the federal level to support additional research in the indoor sector.
We sell two products our farm and technology and the food that comes out. Irving Fain, Co-Founder and CEO, Bowery Bowery
Just like in every sector data is very valuable. Many indoor farms are learning from their experience, collecting data and improving. The value of these farms comes from the technology they build, the food they sell, and the big data that is collected.
More demand from local than ever before. According to Nelson's data, current production can't meet grocery store demand.
We are likely to see more growth in this sector. Consumers are looking for local and indoor agriculture can provide local and fresh produce all year round. This is a game changer in terms of meeting consumer demand.