Biden’s plans to spend $3-5 trillion in a recovery package to rebuild the economy sounds very promising. In this series, we’re exploring ideas for him to include in the package, focusing on ideas that no one is really talking about already. Today, we dive into why Biden should invest in building a vertical farming industry (and more broadly, a sustainable agriculture industry) in America.
Thank you for this article Saikat. I'm the COO of Upward Farms, a vertical aquaponic farm based in Brooklyn. I've found yours and Robert Hockett's industrial policy approach incredibly inspiring since first finding out about the Green New Deal. To boost your point here, every successful manufacturing and farming industry I've seen - here in the US and across the world - depends on targeted government policies to support those industries because we depend on so many interrelated inputs (cheap energy, efficient transportation, streamlined building codes etc). Additionally, loans and insurance from private firms are surprisingly expensive for small and medium sized businesses - especially in new industries.
One additional area I'd love to see federal research dollars pour into is the microbiome. Bacteria and fungi replacing chemicals to achieve higher yields and lower disease incidence is perhaps the greatest technological paradigm shift in agriculture today, with companies like IndigoAg raising hundreds of millions to take on giants like Monsanto/Bayer. This research is crucial to catalyzing the shift to regenerative agriculture, which encompasses practices to boost the microbiome in soil. And yet we've only just begun studying the microbiome - both in the human body and in natural ecosystems. Microbiome sequencing is still too expensive for most farmers. Monsanto/Bayer's chemicals still have a depth of research that make it difficult for microbiome alternatives to compete with. And to date practices that optimize for a healthy microbiome are largely absent from even the most well capitalized vertical farms.
And then there's vertical ocean farming! Folks like Bren Smith at GreenWave are farming the entire water column - shellfish and seaweed at once. Farming those items sequesters carbon and improves local ecosystems as opposed to extracts from them. And seaweed has the potential to replace corn in a lot of industrial practices (energy, plastics, livestock feed etc). These items too require cheap credit, targeted government policies (e.g. similar to those that corn, soy, and wheat currently enjoy) and federal R&D dollars.
- Johnny Bowman