Plenty Unlimited is investing US$300m over six years in a new vertical farm “campus” in the US state of Virginia.
Headquartered in California, where Plenty kicked off its first indoor growing centre, the company has secured a 120-acre (485,622 square metre) plot of land in Richmond for the new site.
Another farm, as previously announced and not connected with the Richmond project, is under construction in Compton in California, and is due to open in January. Plenty also operates an R&D facility in Laramie, Wyoming.
The Plenty Richmond Farm Campus marks the business’ expansion beyond the West Coast in a partnership with long-term investor and fruit grower Driscoll’s. “Several” farms will be built on the complex over the six years, with the first cultivating strawberries, followed by leafy greens and tomatoes, with an ultimate annual yield goal of 20 million pounds.
Plenty said the first batches of strawberries grown in a controlled indoor environment at Richmond will arrive in retailers in the 2023-24 winter season.
Chief executive Arama Kukutai said: “Through more than a decade of investment in research and development, Plenty has cracked the code on a scalable platform that makes indoor farming increasingly economical. That innovation makes it possible for us to grow a wide variety of crops with a fraction of the land and up to 350 times more yield per acre than conventional farms.”
While vertical farming is expanding around the world, whether it be crops grown using hydroponic or aeroponic systems, and in high-tech greenhouses or buildings, it is an expensive business requiring huge capital outlays and technological inputs.
Produce prices are not yet comparable with traditionally grown greens and fruits, and companies operating in the sector have struggled to turn a profit.
Speaking to Just Food in 2020, co-founder Dr. Nate Storey said Plenty had raised $500m from investors over multiple rounds since its inception in 2014, including $140m in Series D financing that same year. The funding pot grew in January 2022 with $400m of fresh investment, with retailer Walmart joining as a “strategic partner”.
Plenty declined to comment on whether the $300m included the cost of land and if Driscoll’s had contributed any of the funds for the Richmond complex.
Driscoll’s chairman and CEO Miles Reiter said: “This farm will combine Driscoll’s patented berry varieties with Plenty’s patented indoor vertical-farming technology. We are excited to take the next step in the journey to understand what it takes to bring fresh, flavourful berries locally grown all year round.”