From the kitchen to the planet Mars, indoor farming is still looking its way

(AFP) – From a corner of the kitchen to the expanses of sand on Mars, will plants soon be grown in technology-controlled artificial environments? Some start-ups believe it, but are still struggling to find the economic model that makes them viable on a large scale.

“In 5 to 10 years, the majority of homes will be equipped with indoor vegetable gardens”, small cabinets where plants grow in a completely controlled environment, said this week at VivaTech la Paris Thibaut Pradier, founder of the start -on “La Grangette”.

Once the consumer is equipped with a vegetable garden, this company plans to provide refills in the form of a coconut fiber capsule, which includes a seed with the desired vegetable, for 1.5 euros in target price.

The purchase of the seed then gives access to an application that indicates how to set the indoor vegetable garden in an appropriate way – dosage of nutrients, humidity, light … – and allows to follow the growth of the plant.

Proof that the market is booming, home appliance maker LG “is already producing indoor vegetables in South Korea with great success, and Miele has just launched in Germany in particular,” said Pradier.

For him, this totally controlled agriculture is indeed part of the equation to succeed in feeding the planet at an acceptable environmental cost.

Sure, “the indoor vegetable garden is going to consume the equivalent of a fridge,” but the carbon balance of its salad will be much better, “because it won’t have to be transported and delivered,” he says.

Interstellar Lab founder Barbara Belvisi, who wants to grow plants in the most hostile environments, is the same length.

“Traditional agriculture alone will not be able to feed 9 billion people,” she said.

“A closed and controlled environment allows for the optimization of energy consumption” and may also allow for the “relocation of agriculture” while avoiding the importation of far-flung products from far-flung countries.

Interstellar Lab, which has raised 7 million euros and employs about 30 people, plans to deliver by the end of 2023, about twenty of its “Biopods”, “dômes” of culture of 55 square meters, where the plants grow in a nutritious mist in aeroponics.

These environmentally friendly modules foreshadow the true ambition of Interstellar Lab on Earth: culture in space – in a space station, for example – or on another planet.

– “Continue testing” –

Instantly pour, the biopods are intended for pharmaceutical laboratories, cosmetics or any other industry looking for very particular and high value-added plants, details Barbara Belvisi.

“In the beginning, it will not necessarily be for food, except for very specific plants such as vanilla.” The typical example for her is the vetiver, a breed used in perfumery that grows very well, and without destroying the soil, in aeroponics.

Because for inland agriculture, the road to commercial viability is long, as evidenced by Agricool’s balance sheet.

The promising French start-up, which raised 35 million euros in 2018, wanted to grow salads or strawberries in urban containers equipped with computers, as close as possible to the consumer.

Despite the craze for its concept, it failed to find a viable business model, explains its co-founder Guillaume Fourdinier.

“Consumers will agree to pay about 20% more” for this type of local product, “but it is not enough to make R&D costs profitable and it is still above traditional competitors’ prices,” he said. il.

Agricool managed to get the benefits of some vegetables, such as herbs, but it did not reach the milling cutters or lettuce, there were no higher production costs.

Her diagnosis coincides with that of Barbara Belvisi: in the short term, this type of culture can only be viable for high value-added products.

Or “in the long run, everything will change with climate change” and urban farms, in domes or containers, will be able to prevail if temperatures prevent outdoor cultivation in southern countries, in particular.

“In order to meet the major food challenges that lie ahead, we will need to continue to test and invest heavily in parallel in the transformation of traditional farms,” ​​he said.

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