This Start-up is Planting the Seeds to Disrupt Farming for Good

Plenty has a great name. It also has a compelling vertical farming idea that could change agriculture forever.

Last week, the San Francisco agricultural technology company scored $200 million in financing from some notable names. That list includes Softbank (the Japanese firm led by billionaire Masayoshi Son) and investment companies associated with Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

These well-heeled investors are betting on big disruption. And we should be paying close attention.

Farming has not changed much in centuries. Sure, there are self-driving tractors and even drones. But the basic process still involves sowing seeds and waiting patiently for Mother Nature to bless the soil with bountiful crops.

Plenty wants to change all of that.

As you might expect, given its Bay Area roots, the company wants to supercharge farming with information technology and a healthy dose of idealism.

According to a story at Inhabitat, Plenty claims advances in data science and micro sensors that will limit the use of water by 99%.

For some crops, those advances include the use of LED lighting, humidity control and planting techniques that can push yields to 350 times more than a typical farm.

And all produce will be free of pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

Because the farms are indoors and no bigger than a suburban Wal-Mart or Home Depot, farms can be placed near large urban populations.

That’s where the idealism kicks in.

Plenty has made getting nutritious, organic food closer to the people part of its mission statement.

A company blog explains that, over the past several decades, foods have actually become less rich in vitamins and minerals.

As weird as that seems, agriculture as a business changed from a patchwork of local farms to large, international agribusinesses.

Innovation is focused on the economics of 3,000-mile supply chains. Fruits and vegetables are engineered to withstand the scars of long truck rides and the bruises of extended stays on shipping docks.

Matt Barnard, Plenty’s young CEO, has a different take on innovation …

Controlling every aspect of the environment reduces costs. Reducing the farm footprint puts produce closer to the market. It also means the company can experiment with heirloom seeds like Black Vernissage tomatoes and Violetta Italia cauliflower.

Shrinking the supply chain to 50 miles has its tasty advantages.

In many ways, vertical farming is the type of innovation that science fiction promised us years ago. It just makes sense.

However, even just five years ago, the economics did not make sense. Falling prices for cloud computing, Internet of Things sensors, and machine learning have been key.

Information technology is being commoditized.

Just like fruits, vegetables and livestock.

That commoditization is changing entire sectors. It is reinvigorating old business models and inventing new ones — like vertical farming.

This is the type of change that most investors miss.

Some pretty smart investors already see it coming.

That’s why Son, Schmidt and Bezos invested in a tiny San Francisco startup that’s determined to turn farming on its end. Software modeling and sensor technology are pushing the world to a point where almost anything can be predicted with a high degree of certainty.

That opens up plenty of opportunities for investors.

Best wishes,
Jon Markman

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Comments 36

  1. Jefe Gordo July 26, 2017

    “That opens up plenty of opportunities for investors” How can a retail investor participate?

    Reply

  2. Michael Traphagen July 26, 2017

    Jon,
    Come to NH and look at a 10 acre super mechanized structure under glass. It’s amazing.

    Reply

  3. warren July 26, 2017

    its about time.

    Reply

  4. Andrea van de Kleut July 26, 2017

    excellent , i ( and some help of my son) am a small hydroponics grower,and every year i have an ABUNDANCE of foods from only half a dozen plants of all sorts ( native or grow-abel indoors and out , in NC)
    I SEE THIS START UP having a real large chance of success!

    Reply

  5. brad July 26, 2017

    So how can we get some of this ?

    Reply

  6. Ralph A. Bowie July 26, 2017

    I have been reading about this type of growing produce for years.
    An article came out in(POPULAR SCIENCE) in September 2008
    entitled (FARMING IN THE SKY) and I have been interested every
    since.

    Reply

  7. Ajit Singh July 26, 2017

    Farming mainly had been an INPUT-OUTPUT AND MARKETING ECONOMICS OVER THE CENTURIES from the
    Jungle days to present Farm Gate to Tables. It may evolve slowly over the years but I don’t bet it will happen to give a deadly blow to present day farming that have become more and more efficient in Input-Output & Delivery.

    Ajit Singh.

    Reply

    • Randy Robinson July 27, 2017

      The movement towards buying organic and local has already laid some of the foundation for this technology. Huge deterrent to indoor farming has been high quality low energy cost lighting. The LED has solved a portion of some issues. Moving restaurants into buying locally has formed a usable network that will be applied to this technique. Some of the hurdles have already been cleared for advantage. Demand for this by the public is in place, just ask any shopper what he wants in his farm grown food, and you keep getting the same answers. This has a future, yes it does. Will it replace farm fields? Not all of them… but we will grow away from the industrialized farms. And States like CA could see a huge chunk of their market evaporate. lol did they finally get some water… Anyways, I”m going to check out this stock.

      Reply

  8. Samson B July 27, 2017

    WOW! Sounds great and idealistic.
    It going to require PLENTY fold the initial 200m to get this thing off the ground. One can safely surmise Agra and it’s lobbyists will invest billions to shut it down or at the very least kick the can down the road.
    History also tells us that it took decades to get the grocery delivery business off and running. Albeit a great investment opportunity for the millenial gen.

    Reply

  9. Danielle July 27, 2017

    WOW!! GOD BLESS AMERICA, and innovation!!!!!
    Better watch out for Monsanto and the Government.
    We know they simply can’t have this happen!

    Reply

  10. Nick Mast July 27, 2017

    The information here sounds and is very good to promote. Don’t hold your breath for the positive results to happen in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years or more. I say this because there are many indoor food crops right now that do as is explained above, but there are many negatives to growing indoors also.

    Temperatures need to be regulated 24/7 and that takes lots of energy, HEAT and AIR CONDITIONING (cost), insects, and molds, and fungus come into growing buildings in multiples, and the nutrition needed to produce a green leaf, or a tuber, or a grain, is in multiples to produce the weight of the new production mass. These Agra buildings are taxed by government like residences, regarding real estate taxes also, unlike open land. They bring, smells, and crop eating bugs, and off fall secondary bugs, and upset to the neighborhood they are in.
    Now, to save”99%” of the water is someone blowing smoke in this article. Just think a minute, weight, basic pounds of production, weight mass in a food is usually 70 to 95 percent water, so even though water will be saved, there is not going to be a 99% savings in water volume, that number is not realistic. What a crock, mother nature provides water now outside, and we are going to save “99%” in current water use for food crops, as stated in the report?? Really, think about it a minute. Smoke and mirrors.
    Also moving close to the urban and metro market with growing buildings will put a greater strain on water resoureses, already at top draw down now, in many cases.
    I know, I was a 22 year in door grower of food items. I do know this once the indoor production of food is accomplished in the science, and the production is factual, then the Global Export will begin to strip the North American food production by exporting that Agra Factory, also, to cheaper labor markets in foreign countries so the farm as you know it will NOT be benefiting your geography, in many cases, not all. It sounds good to say growing closer to markets, but really. That is blowing smoke also. The growing function will be a factory of ag production able to be sent off shore for production there? My experience is the Agra Factory was shipped to Asia, with the help of your tax dollars, and the U S A State Department and Ag Science Universities providing the knowledge and science, learned in Ag/commerce here on our local farms initially, to foreign governments and industries off shore WONDERFUL. Now you dreamers, start thinking with your minds, and not your ass, and don’t believe all that someone prints in a investment article as a science that is good for you and your future. This may be 200 years from now when the Agra Factory is needed on a distant planet, but until then, evaluate the true impact!!!!
    Real Wealth is what is created into existence that was not hear yesterday ( ears of corn, potatoes, tomatoes, meat, a mined metal, or mineral, etc) not the fake printing going on all over the world. The Agra Factory will make farming move away from your state and country, and the fields will be more abandoned then already, in some areas.
    Example, Pot is being grown in various Agra Factories now and not impacting revenue gain in a general area or country, but Global. So your potatoes will be the same, if this article is correct. Pot is selling for the HIGEST PRICE ever on the basis that it is being grown in Agra Factories, and I guess your potatoes will be at there highest prices also when grown in Agra Factories also. Or did I get that incorrect? Iused Pot as an example, but could have used other crops also that are grown in Agra Factories. Maybe this madness is that the printing of money will continue and we will print ourselves rich, so everyone can pay any price for food no matter what the price?

    Reply

  11. Sue July 27, 2017

    This vertical farming sounds a lot like indoor organic gardening. It may take some time for the majority of consumers to consider this way of thinking and make the change. Although many of us are already on board with it and welcome the transition.

    That will in turn translate into substantial profits and alternative food choices at “down-to-earth prices” for consumers.

    Reply

  12. Tom July 27, 2017

    Any comments regarding which crops do not fit the concept?

    Reply

  13. TIm Fulreader July 27, 2017

    GReat, already being used in Canada to grow tomatoes

    Reply

  14. Donald July 27, 2017

    I am not too sure about all this ” high tech” farming. We need to keep the taste and vitamins in our products. I don’t believe that can happen with lab produced food. A lot of flavor and vitamins come the soil and sun and atmosphere around the product. Fresh picked vegetables and farm raised animals and chickens is hard to beat for taste and quality. Just my thoughts.

    Reply

  15. Louise July 27, 2017

    I hope this food will taste better. The fruits and vegetables from the store now are tasteless compared to 60 years ago. I thought it was using the same land over and over and not having any natural nutrients left that took away the flavor. I did notice some hydroponic tomatoes have better flavor than today’s farm grown.

    Reply

  16. HENRY MORALES July 27, 2017

    Eureka !!! This definitely deserves a NOBEL they are taking a business model to the 5th Dimension. Please let us know when the I P O will take place or at least when will the franchises become available. Congratulations to all the minds and bodies involved.in the project.

    Reply

  17. hal July 27, 2017

    I’m wondering what is the point of this article. Plenty is not a traded stock, so other than Bezos and the like, who can invest in Plenty? Then why the article? What is the point?

    Reply

  18. Randy Robinson July 27, 2017

    I don’t mean to rain on your Parade but Future Farm Technologies is working this same discipline. I almost bought their stock just prior the US election.
    Im going to check your stock also.

    Can you tell me if I can buy your stocks directly from you? I’d rather not go through a broker, because of their fees and maintenance charges. I’m considering these for very long term and don’t need a broker to hold anything.

    Thank you in advance for any information on this topic

    Reply

  19. Carrie Mataraza July 27, 2017

    Is Plenty an equity at this time?

    Reply

  20. Ronald Bryant July 27, 2017

    If it tastes great it will be a great investment. It sounfs like they are not competing with the mega farmers.

    Reply

  21. Mr. Manfredgensenden July 28, 2017

    With the world’s males getting weaker and less capable of reproduction (Google it), this could finally help produce enough food for everyone.

    Reply

  22. Charlie July 28, 2017

    All I can say is WOW. Has Plenty public yet?

    Reply

  23. Davis Bernier July 28, 2017

    Great message Jon. The way to get this growth movement in Agriculture is possible! HOWEVER, IT IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY REQUIRED TO START THE PROCESS. We need to grant tax incentives in every state for
    including a Green House garden, along with their Solar, battery powered, or natural gas systems. Home builders could design these Green Energy systems in every new home to be included in their 30 year loans as an incentive .

    Reply

    • Sandyb July 28, 2017

      Hey everybody. Read Nick Mast’s post again and again. If you don’t agree with him then say why not.

      Reply

  24. Marina H. July 28, 2017

    Wonderful news. Is “Plenty” a publicly trading company (pink sheets)? Or, remains in private hands?

    Reply

  25. Peter Carminati July 28, 2017

    Ref: Plant the Seeds to Disrupt Farming
    This sounds like a very good beginning to save our food and keep out those rotten gangster chemical giants from ruining Planet Earth.

    Reply

  26. Robert Reissner July 28, 2017

    For a minute there it almost looked like somebody was finally going to recommend introducing society to the earth-shaking concept of teaching agriculture’s original producers to enforce the correct selling price of their products by basing that price on the cost of production.

    Reply

  27. Ralph A. Bowie July 28, 2017

    I read an article in Popular Science dated Septembe 2008
    titled FARMING IN THE SKY. I kept this magazine and
    an envisioned something of this nature being built on the
    Tenn Tom River near Columbus, Ms. This would be close
    to Miss State Univ and MSCW, and could also supply the
    surrounding area.

    Reply

  28. Jon Tatum July 28, 2017

    How to buy PLENTY shares?

    Reply

  29. Phil July 29, 2017

    What’s the ticker??

    Reply

  30. Kent July 29, 2017

    How do get a piece of this action ?
    This is big for everyone

    Reply

    • Patty July 31, 2017

      Actually, this is quite bad. It is like…don’t mess with Mother Nature. Nick Mast is right and seems to speak from experience. Since fruits and vegetables need Sun energy to grow and be nutritious, what is produced here would not have proper vitamins and minerals, if any. When we eat plant life grown in the Sun & soil, we are consuming enery stored in the plant. That is where we get our energy from.

      Additionally, this probably would be off shored and then what would happen to our soil that not longer gets toiled. It dies and then how do we get that back? People become too soft.

      NO, I really think that this is a horrible idea. The person who said to go back and reread Nick’s comments is correct to make that suggestion. If you do not like the taste of the produce you buy from the big box supermarket, then grow your own.

      Reply

  31. Richard Barber July 31, 2017

    Florida Farmer successfully growing with the technology available as it changes for 57 years. Nothing new about Green House farming which has been researched for 50 years that I know of and it hasn’t taken over yet. Probably won’t. Too many problems to make it practical and volume to feed about 8 billion people is too much demand.

    Reply

  32. Dick Johns July 31, 2017

    Jon, You described a greenhouse type of operation. They have diseases and pests indoors as well. There is a micro niche for their concept. But they need to get really high prices to survive. Fruits and vegetables are trucked long distances because in the West we consistently grow better quality at less cost than in the East. If that were not so the fruits and vegetables consumed in the East would be grown there.
    The USA has had a cheap food policy since about 1850’s. It has worked better than any other gov’t policy. However there are terrible consequences coming. The policies cause sons of family farmers to leave and study to be doctors, engineers, etc; and farms get transferred into non farmer controlled corporations. When farming becomes of the corporate mentality the hired managers get a very short term perspective and focus on immediate profitability. Farmers look forwards planning for the success of even their grandchildren. So they spend money to do things such as prevent soil erosion. That reduces this year’s profits.

    Reply

  33. tak September 26, 2017

    Ditching brands? Not likely just redefining the definition of Brands. Negative brands are the brands that are NOT being purchased. For instance: old brands (ie: Jockey, etc.) are re-ldentified on labels as Made-in-China [a negative brand] or Made-in-Viet-Nam [a positive brand], etc. The average consumer looks at the Made-in-(country-name) not the older brand ie: Calvin Klein or Cucci. If the label says “China” and no other (country-name) is available the consumer finds another store or does an on-line search for a different (country-name) store.

    Reply