Indoor farms boosted by technology and cost savings

Advancing technology and falling costs are helping bring about a boom in "indoor farms" in the USA and elsewhere, according to organisers of the world's largest conference on the subject.

Nicola Kerslake, founder of Newbean Capital, which co-hosts the second Annual Indoor Agriculture Conference in Las Vegas this May, claimed the industry is now worth more than $600bn in the US alone.

The price of LEDs fell by 24 per cent between 2010 and 2012 and is set to halve by 2020, while droughts in California show how indoor agriculture, which uses only 10-15 per cent of the water consumed by conventional growing, can have a role even in areas pre-eminent in field growing, she pointed out.

"The Internet of Things revolution is enabling cheaper, simpler control and data gathering systems," she said, pointing to one system that allows growers to control air temperature, humidity and nutrient levels in container farms directly from their smartphones.

"One enthusiast likens indoor ag's current state to the solar industry in 2009, the point at which the industry began tech-driven exponential growth."

Perhaps surprisingly for a city more noted for its conspicuous consumption, Las Vegas's urban agriculture scene is "right on trend", she said, with new farms springing up including one aquaponics (combined plant and fish rearing) supplier and a hydroponic grower whose basil furnishes casinos' tables the same day it is picked.

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