How the pandemics impact the Indoor Farming industry
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The massive impact that COVID-19 has made on the global food system, requires a close review. It is highly probable that we will soon face some fundamental problems, which we will not be able to ignore anymore.

One of the problems that has to be solved first is huge reliance of the agriculture industry on manual labor. This problem has become most acute due to the pandemics and border shutdowns: with a profound lack of seasonal migrant workers farmers simply cannot harvest. Bloomberg reports that berries, asparagus, and other crops are already rotting in the South of Europe. In India yield is fed to cattle.
photo by reuters.com
For the same very reason the whole growing season is in danger. On top of that, farmers who can go out in the fields refuse to do so. They claim there are not enough face masks that are normally used to protect them from pesticides or smoke during fires. And those who still go out in the fields no matter what jeopardise their lives to make sure we have enough food.
photo by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images, npr.org
There are a lot of countries that have announced complete lockdowns and obliged their citizens to quarantine, but almost the single universal reason why people everywhere are allowed to leave home — is grocery shopping. As Sanjeev Krishnan, the CIO of S2G Ventures, says: "We will still need to eat". With all that being said, it some believe that it is a good time for agri-foodtech companies. Adam Anders of Amsterdam-based Anterra Capital describes the agri-food sector as "traditionally resilient in a downturn". And Rob Leclerc from AgFunder, who included iFarm in the list of global AgTech-startups of 2019, thinks that those who are involved in agrotech or food production will be less struck by the pandemics than other industries, as they fall into the category of "essential sectors of the economy", and here we may even observe a surge in demand.
Sales of fresh produce are growing
In mid-March of 2020 retail sales of fresh vegetables, greens and fruits in the US have grown by more than 30% year-on-year, and frozen — by more than 100%. The growth can be explained by the fact that in quarantine people are more inclined to cook and in general more alarmed to take care of their health and immunity. With the pandemics, healthy eating and an overall healthy lifestyle are now even more trending. However, people can not always access fresh green produce, because its supply has either slowed down or stopped. In the meantime, the demand for some products such as lemons, ginger, garlic is booming (together with price). Meanwhile, WHO recommends consuming a minimum of 400 gr of fresh greens, vegetables and fruit a day (144 kg/year per person).
Contact-free delivery
While farmers and shops are moving online (in China there has been a growth of 300%) and towards home delivery, people are concerned about how far their food is coming from. For example, on average a tomato travels 1500 km, losing about 45% of its nutrients by the time it gets to a consumer. The pandemics have also started a new trend - now shoppers also worry about how many people have touched their food on its way to the shelf.
фото: Xiao Yijiu/AP, npr.org
Thus contact-free delivery straight from farms is gaining more and more consumer trust. In its turn grows interest to farming technologies that enable to autonomously produce relatively small amounts (for one or a few families) of vegetables, greens or berries and ideally on the premises of a private home, village or residential area and with no special knowledge required.
Sustainable farming
Global food security depends crucially on environmental conditions and issues. People already use 80% of all fertile soil for farming and also require fresh water whose supplies are exhausting day by day. Traditional farming cause a great deal of stress for the environment. Farmers use pesticides to protect harvest from plant diseases and pests. These substances first accumulate in soil and then in plants that people eat, thus weakening our immune systems and overall health. Modern local production of clean healthy food gains more significance in times when healthy eating is crucial.
Vertical farming — is one of the most essential methods of sustainable farming, that tackles a range of the mentioned problems. Vertical farming makes it possible to grow a) organically b) close to the area of consumption c) with a minimum use of natural resources.

Large scale vertical farms built with iFarm technologies also have a range of benefits. For instance, thanks to process automation it is possible to decrease the number of people involved in production: on average by 2-3 times per 1 ton of produce compared with traditional farming. Besides, all the processes on the farm can be managed and monitored remotely.
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Technologies for a fully-automated production
At iFarm we get hundreds of requests from all over the world for all-year-round automated vertical farms. People are interested in those solutions that will enable them to grow food essentially without getting in touch with anybody else. Before, such requests had only entertaining or educational nature, because our vertical farms are only economically viable if there is not less than 200 m² of growing area. Now customers do not need a farm to be cost-effective, they just need it to "work no matter what" or "that no one touches my food".
In midst of a food crisis, when work migration is limited indefinitely and any travellers almost anywhere must self-quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival, technologies that allow automation of food production come into prominence. Thus lockdowns inspire new creative technological solutions that will make local all-year-round production of fresh food possible.

We believe in science, medicine and common sense when following quarantine measures. Humankind will survive. Some countries are already turning back to usual life. But the fear of new viruses and self-isolation may remain. It could change a lot in politics, economics, consumer behaviour and the global food system. There are a lot of uncertainties along the way, but one thing remains true: it is much easier to adapt to a new reality, if you have an unlimited access to fresh food.

20.04.2020
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