The Dutch know greenhouses and the Israelis know tech. Future Crops, a Dutch-Israeli venture to grow crops in greenhouses on a soil-like substrate and not just water in classic hydroponics, announces a new investment round led by Tencent to accelerate growth.
Hydroponics, or growing plants without soil, was investigated by NASA in the 30s but really took off in the 80s when Canadian pot growers were looking to grow cannabis under the radar, in the winter.
Since then the technology has been developed into a science and the mood has shifted from high quality crops such as medical marijuana to low cost food like lettuce – as the claims go by container farms still very much yet not able to prove their business model works.
Seedo in Israel, for instance, seemed to manipulate some pump and dump scheme to raise investment and a business that never really panned out. They had planned a grow-it-all fridge for the consumer and then later claimed they would pivot to container farms, amassing an impressive C-suite team.
InFarm, a group of Israelis in Berlin, have taken another approach, growig fresh herbs and plants inside grocery stores. Their last investment was $170M.
Future Crops, we hope, has learned from the failures with their soil-like substrate in vertical farms to better reproduce the natural environment. The high-tech farm grows fresh, clean, ultra-sustainable, high quality crops at competitive price points. Researchers from Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) were an integral part of the team that developed Future Crops’ cutting-edge technology.
Some hydroponics growers mainly in cannabis already have used substrate such as coco coir for a couple of decades. Israelis have been using substrates like this in hothouses as well, basically demineralising soil and then adding nutrients back in using drip feed. The system relies on the petroleum industry and mining for NPK, and does overuse plastics and energy. But it might be a productive middle way until the world turns itself over to more small holder farming and regenerative agriculture.
Future Crops had already raised over $30 million USD in seed funding from the Lerman Family, leaders in the American steel to finance the construction of their state-of-the-art facility and to build their team of experts.
“We are tremendously excited about this investment,” says Gary Grinspan, CEO and Co-Founder of Future Crops. “Tencent’s investment reflects the company’s focus on sustainable innovations and support for technologies, like vertical farming, which can create clean, locally grown sustainable food while helping to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. We believe our soil-substrate-based platform is closer to nature and produces fresh, longer-lasting, higher-quality produce at improved yields, as plants grow best in soil”.
While Gary says the word “soil” he does not mean healthy living soil that one finds in nature, but rather soil stripped of its nutrients and supporting actors like micro-fungi, and diverse ecosystem while minerals like NPK are added back in.
“Tencent supports companies creating solutions to the world’s most critical challenges, including technologies that can feed more people using fewer resources” said Ling Ge, Chief European Representative, Tencent. “Investments in sustainable agriculture technologies, such as vertical farm systems, aligns with our mission to apply technology for good.
About Future Crops
Future Crops has established a fully automated indoor vertical farm in Westland, Netherlands, known as the “greenhouse hub” of Europe. The facility is equipped with high-precision agricultural technology and creates optimal climatic conditions to suit each crop.
It markets fresh herbs grown and processed in a multistory indoor vertical farming system. The crops are grown in a soil-based substrate developed by the company to be as close as possible to nature. The platform can grow a comprehensive range of herbs and leafy greens all year long, without pesticides or biological substances, and in climate-protected conditions.
Future Crops maintains a strategic partnership with Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) and closely collaborates with Wageningen University – both among the leading global research centres in agriculture.