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Walmart Invests in Indoor Vertical Produce Farming


A January 25th article by Amy Sowder in The Packer confirms that Walmart has invested in Plenty Unlimited Inc., a San Francisco enterprise involved in indoor vertical farming of produce.  The long-term agreement provides Walmart with the opportunity to stock leafy greens for California stores that will be grown in a proposed indoor farm in Compton, CA.


According to the article, Charles Redfield, U.S. Chief Merchandising Officer for Walmart stated, "we believe Plenty is a proven leader in a new era of agriculture that offers pesticide free, peak-flavor produce to shoppers every day of the year".  He added, "this partnership not only accelerates agricultural innovation but reinforces our commitment to sustainability by delivering a new category of fresh that is good for people and the planet".


Plenty holds a range of engineering and software patents, and their technology incorporates efficient use of water and land.  By locating units in close proximity to centers of population density, transportation and waste can be minimized.


Arama Kukutai, CEO of Plenty stated, "our farms can be sited anywhere allowing us to put fresh fruits, greens and vegetables on shelves that all times at speed for maximum freshness".  According to The Packer, Plenty operates a research facility in Laramie, WY. in addition to the farm in Compton under construction.


In recent years, the leafy greens industry has faced problems arising from outbreaks of STEC and Salmonella infection as a result of contaminated irrigation water.  In the absence of a positive kill step during packing, the measures adopted by growers of the Yuma Valley of Arizona and in the Central Valley of California will not assure consumers that products are free of potentially pathogenic bacteria.


Intensive vertical farming could represent a game changer providing cost is comparable with conventional cultivation given escalation in labor and transport together with restrictions on the availability of water in western states.  Obviously, Walmart is putting a toe in the water and their experience with Plenty will soon be paralleled by other supermarket chains.  If financially and technically superior to conventional cultivation, a higher proportion of leafy greens and other produce maybe derived from intensive facilities paralleling developments in the commercial egg-production industry.