What causes a vertical farm operation to fail? A unique panel discussion of industry leaders explored that question as part of the first “Aglanta” conference.

In the discussion, sponsored by agritecture.com, three industry experts weighed in on the top nine reasons vertical farms fail. The panelists include Paul Hardej of FarmedHere; Mike Nasseri of LocalGarden; and Matt Liotta of PodPonics.

Although we encourage you to watch the whole discussion here, we have summarized the panel’s comments in this article.

1. Not choosing the right location. Just as with any business, the location of a vertical farm is an essential part of its success or failure. The panelists mentioned that vertical farmers have an advantage over traditional farmers in that they can leverage high-density growing technology and taking control of their growing environment.

However, they encouraged vertical farmers to consider the following questions when choosing a site:

  • What am I growing, and for whom?
  • What’s my distribution plan?
  • Will my building meet my farm’s needs?

2. Not using a value-based pricing strategy. Many new farmers price their products to compete with grocery store prices. However, the panelists stressed that is the wrong approach.

These new growers forget that their product is a fresher, more trustworthy option and should be priced accordingly. Vertical farm product pricing should match the quality of your product, not what is on the supermarket shelves, they said.

3. Attempting too many things at once. Some growers want to grow food while productizing and selling the technology they’re using at the same time. The panelists advised new farmers to have only one goal – to grow and sell good food.

Farmers who waste time and money on unproven systems or trying to develop their own tech instead of focusing on fresh, quality food for their customers are likely to end up out of business, they said.

4. Not understanding that labor is always the highest cost. Many new farmers underestimate labor costs and the importance of ergonomics in a safe workplace.

All three panelists strongly urged growers to avoid using scissor lifts. They also said that expensive automated systems are the downfall of many new operations.

Instead, they encouraged growers to implement systems that lower labor costs and do not require costly automation technology.

5. Not developing a knowledgeable workforce. There is a considerable knowledge gap in the indoor/vertical farming industry, according to the panelists. Vertical farmers need to educate themselves and their employees on the how’s and why’s of planting, harvesting, and packaging.

They mentioned that Upstart University is one way to close the knowledge gap and that growers need to seek other educational opportunities.

6. Not creating an efficient farm design and workflow. The panelists suggested that new farmers treat their operation like a manufacturing process, not an art form.

For example, when evaluating farm equipment options, they recommend looking for systems that can optimize workflow and maximize labor efficiency.

7. Obsessing over data. While data can be important, the panelists warned against spending too much time collecting data without knowing how to leverage it effectively.

Data collection systems require significant investments of time and money that most local farmers simply do not have, they explained.  

8. Worrying more about organic certification than customer satisfaction.

The panelists stated that customers value trust and transparency over an organic label. They want to know that the food they buy is safe, nutritious, and grown in ways they can support.

Claiming that “local” is the new “organic,” the panelists agreed that buying from a local farmer gives customers a sense of security because they can visit the farm and shake the farmer’s hand.

9.  Debating too long about growing techniques. The discussion’s final topic concerned the questions of greenhouse vs. indoor farming and aquaponics vs. hydroponics.

The speakers made positive points about the viability of both aquaponics and hydroponics.

After discussing the cost of producing food in a greenhouse versus an indoor facility, they leaned towards a recommendation of an indoor, highly controlled production.

However, the consensus appeared to be that farmers should make these choices after careful consideration on a case-by-case basis.

If you are new to vertical growing or are looking to expand your existing business, Grow Higher can help. We offer mobile racking systems that will streamline your operation and more than double your growing space. Call us today for your free strategy planning session.

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