Grant approved for world’s largest vertical farming center
Gov. Mark Gordon announced Feb. 2 the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) approved a grant to support the development of the world’s largest and most advanced vertical farming research center in Laramie through Plenty Unlimited Inc. (Plenty).
According to a governor’s office press release, this $20 million grant, given to the City of Laramie from the Wyoming Business Council, will be used for construction and infrastructure costs for a 60,000-square-foot facility, which will be built on 16 acres at the Cirrus Sky Technology Park.
Additional funding, land and support for the project will be provided by the City of Laramie and the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance. The project will also support the retention and creation of nearly 200 high-paying jobs in the community.
Since the approval of the grant, the project has shifted into the design phase, with plans to begin construction in 2023. The facility is set to open in early 2025.
Plenty Unlimited, Inc., a company dedicated to advancing the emerging technology of indoor agriculture, got its start in Laramie.
According to the governor’s office, Chief Science Officer Dr. Nate Storey co-founded Bright Agrotech, LLC in 2010 while enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Wyoming (UW).
Later, in 2014, Storey and a group of entrepreneurs founded the startup Plenty Unlimited Inc., which later bought out Bright Agrotech.
Today, Plenty has more than 400 employees nationwide, including a research and development team of more than 75 scientists and 100 engineers. Over the past two years, this team has created more than 100 new patent filings for innovations as diverse as new crop growing systems, plant stress detection and new tomato varieties.
“As a Wyoming native, I have devoted my career to advancing plant science in my home state and am proud to be a part of helping the state play a leading role in advancing a new field,” said Storey in the press release. “This state-of-the-art facility will not only accelerate our research and development pipeline, but it will also create an incredible opportunity to attract and employ a talented workforce to further innovation and diversification for Wyoming.”
“Creating this new center of excellence greatly expands Plenty’s ability to transform indoor agriculture,” said Plenty CEO Arama Kukutai in a Feb. 2 Business Wire article. “We’ve already built one of the top indoor farming research ecosystems in the world in Wyoming. Our new facility will expand our capability to grow the widest variety of crops, which is key to unlocking the potential of this category and addresses a major limitation for the industry today.”
“This continued commitment to innovation is what’s needed to push indoor farming forward and make fresh food accessible to everyone,” Kukutai continued.
Gordon commented, “Wyoming is proud to invest in the continued success of a business that was first innovated here in Wyoming by one of our own and demonstrated at the 2015 World Expo. The level at which Plenty will be operating in this new facility will truly advance Wyoming’s preeminence as a global center of indoor agricultural research. This center gives us a tremendous opportunity to promote state-of-the-art research and development and further diversify our state’s economy.”
According to a Feb. 2 Bowery Farming blog post, vertical farming is an agricultural process in which crops are grown on top of each other, rather than in traditional, horizontal rows. Many vertical farms are also grown indoors using a practice known as controlled environment agriculture (CEA).
Through CEA, plants are grown in spaces where conditions can be controlled to match the specific needs of the plants.
“Similar to smart thermostats in modern homes, wherein certain rooms can be set to different temperatures, today’s smart farms allow for variations in humidity, temperature, light and nutrients from area to area within a single farm. This means different plants can grow in one indoor farm, but have their environments customized to their individual needs,” explains Bowery Farming.
The company further explains, in contrast to traditional farming operations which require fertile soil, plenty of moisture and are usually determined by seasonal variations in temperature and sunlight, vertical farming systems grow crops hydroponically, aeroponically or aquaponically with LED lighting and a closed-loop watering system, without soil.
Because vertically-farmed crops are grown in clean, controlled environments there is also no need for pesticide use, and there is a reduced instance of the presence of pathogens such as E. coli – and therefore, an increase in food safety.
Bowery Farming explains growing plants vertically also conserves space, resulting in a higher crop yield per square foot of land used.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.