Indoor AgTech News

Collaboration between Signify and Infinite Acres shine a New Light on Scaling Up Vertical Farms

23 February 2023 - Vertical farming innovator Infinite Acres is on a mission. They have created a highly efficient and optimized way of farming, capable of producing an abundance of crop varieties year-round. They grow completely indoors, using 100% renewable energy. They use no pesticides and eliminate excessive food miles. “Bringing such an innovative farm to the world is a huge technological and business challenge,” according to Mike Zelkind, CEO of 80 Acres Farms. “A key to success is working with partners like Signify."

Vertical farming has the potential to improve the way we feed the world. The global population is growing rapidly and is increasingly urbanized. Climate change makes growing conditions less predictable. Vertical farming can provide reliable, sustainable production of healthy foods grown close to the consumer.

But vertical farming is a relatively new industry, with all the challenges that involve. Mike Zelkind is the CEO of 80 Acres Farms, in Hamilton, Ohio, in the USA. It’s the parent of Infinite Acres, the company’s dedicated technology subsidiary. Their first R&D farm opened just six years ago in 2016. “As with all industry innovators, there is enormous pressure to prove your business model and scale up to profitability as quickly as possible,” says Mike.

Not just sexy technology
Vertical farming brings unique challenges. Large-scale indoor growing is a highly complex process. All the science must be right, from plant type, nutrition and irrigation to climate conditions, lighting and more.

All the business variables must be right as well. “We are breaking new ground to scale up a new industry,” says Mike. “We need to manage a holistic solution, from financing to farm automation, from supply chain management of a highly perishable product to the marketing of an affordable product the consumer will love. It’s not just sexy technology.”

We could never learn enough fast enough
80 Acres Farms is one of the first companies mastering the art of vertical farming scale-up, powered by its technology subsidiary Infinite Acres, with headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Since that first R&D farm in 2016, 80 Acres Farms has opened new facilities each year, introducing new crop types and new levels of automation.

The company’s next farm, located in Atlanta, Georgia and beginning operations in 2023, will be able to generate four times as much food as the company’s current largest and most productive farm. It will be capable of growing leafy greens, microgreens, vine crops, and soft fruits year-round.

Technology and business growth on this scale has a rapid and steep learning curve. “We could never learn fast enough to make this happen,” says Tisha Livingston, CEO of Infinite Acres. “Plant growth, irrigation, climate, lighting: it all requires the latest specialist knowledge. We realized early on that we need to work with partners.”

Egoless collaboration: the first topic was all about lights
And so, the company was founded on a strategy that it calls egoless collaboration—working closely with partners to find the best solutions possible, ego aside. “We believe in strategic partnership between technology leaders who are looking for better ways to grow indoors, to learn quicker and scale up more rapidly together,” says Tisha. “That’s why we invest in long-term, highly collaborative relationships with partners who can help us grow better.”

Today, Infinite Acres runs on a network of proprietary, co-developed, and existing technologies. One of the company’s first partners was Signify. “Our early R&D development was all about lights and spectrum,” says Tisha. That’s where Signify came in. “They have been one of our main partners since the beginning. They are instrumental in getting us to where we are today.”

Infinite Acres and Signify work closely to innovate and optimize lighting for indoor farming. The Infinite Acres team brings specialist plant knowledge. The Signify team brings their broad understanding of Philips GreenPower LED grow lights, its effect on growing plants, and how to align all other factors like climate and irrigation. The collaboration includes work on technological innovation, yield predictions, and light recipes customized for Infinite Acres.

More lighting power and knowledge
Signify began developing dedicated LED lighting for horticulture in 2007 and has led the industry ever since. At the GrowWise Center in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, Signify scientists conduct ongoing research into the parameters needed to grow plants indoors—working not only on lighting but also on humidity and irrigation, with a focus on space, energy and water savings.

“Signify brings a massive amount of specialist lighting knowledge to our collaboration,” says Tisha. “Together with them, we constantly look for crop improvements in taste, health benefits, texture, and quality. For any enterprise active in indoor horticulture, I can highly recommend Signify to provide advice on your growth recipes for your specific business.”

Scaling up to change the way we feed the world
In 2015, Tisha and Mike founded 80 Acres Farms with a vision to create a better future for our children. They knew food wasn’t what it used to be and they wanted to make it better by creating a new kind of farm. They did. 80 Acres Farms now operates super-efficient vertical farms that can produce up to 300 times as much food per square foot as traditional farms. They use 95% less water per pound of produce and minimize food miles and waste. They operate eight farms in the United States, built by Infinite Acres.

“The proof of concept was a challenging start,” says Mike. “But then came the really difficult part: scaling up the operations. We operate in a new, highly dynamic and technologically complex business space. Thanks to partners like Signify, we are realizing the concept and rolling it out worldwide.”

The Sustainability Revolution
“We have not lost sight of our original vision,” says Tisha. “We believe vertical farming is poised to bring about a revolution in the way we feed the world—a sustainability revolution, with better quality, locally produced foods and less waste.”

In 2023, 80 Acres Farms plans ambitious growth, including international expansion. Three fully automated new farms are in development in the United States, and 2023 will see the first farm opening in 80 Acres Farms Australia—all powered by Infinite Acres and egoless collaboration with partners like Signify.