Top 5 Advantages of Container Farming
April 20, 2018 | Nicola Kerslake
The allure of container farming has introduced many new farmers to indoor agriculture. Their portability and low fixed costs have expanded the possibilities for grow sites for many people. Based on discussions with industry players, we estimate that there are between 250 and 300 branded container farms in the world, with likely as many “homegrown” operations in existence.
This growing practice has not only captured the imagination of the media, but it has also attracted entrepreneurs and investors. A container farm’s size, cost and ability to grow in extreme temperatures have made it a great indoor farming option. Here are their five top advantages:
Number 5 – They Encourage New Farmers
Our research indicates that around 80% of container farmers are new to growing. These new farmers bring skill sets to indoor agriculture from professions like construction, finance and consulting. Our discussions indicated that they viewed container farms as a manageable way to begin farming, sometimes splitting their time between their “day job” and farming as they transitioned into full-time growing. As farming as a whole is seeing an aging workforce with an average of 60 years’ old, globally, container farming is enticing a much-needed new group of farmers into the industry.
Number 4 – Investor Interest
Container farming has captured the interest of investors. Both equipment suppliers and growers have been able to raise funds from a variety of different sources, from crowdfunding to brand name venture capitalists. In the past year alone, Paris-based strawberry farmer Agricool, Boston-based equipment provider Freight Farms and Brooklyn-based grower Square Roots have each raised rounds. Although small in comparison to the investments raised by plant factory companies, container farm investments have increased significantly recently, with 2017 seeing over $18mn raised by container farmers, more than double the funding of the prior year.
Number 3 – Speed to Market
Fixed structures require a sometimes lengthy process of site selection, design, manufacturing, permitting and construction. This process can take more than a year, with unexpected delays along the way legion. With container farms, however, some suppliers can deliver a fully-operational container farm in just a few months. Once you are sure your farm meets all of your local zoning requirements, preparing your site involves identifying or pouring a level concrete pad and connecting water and electricity. This speed to market can be key for, say, a cannabis grower that has just received a long-awaited permit. It can be the difference between recouping years of investment and work, and not having the funds to establish a business at all.
Number 2 – Flexible Siting
Container farms are a great option for growing in situations that can’t readily accommodate other forms of farming, such as food deserts and harsh environments, because of their size and completeness. With the proper permits and zoning, they can essentially be placed anywhere that can bear their weight, has a level surface and has access to power and water hookups. Unlike a fixed structure, they can be relocated. Their flexible siting opens possibilities to locate an indoor farm in diverse locations like alleys behind restaurants, corporate campuses, urban rooftops.
Number 1 – Comparatively Low Price
At its lowest, the cost of entry into container farming could essentially be a mix of new and used equipment from local stores and online vendors. Those who have built their own “home grown” container farm report costs as low as $15,000-$20,000 per fully-operational unit. More commonly, farmers work with branded equipment vendors, whose offerings range from $50,000 to $120,000 and include not only a fully-equipped container farm often built with proprietary technology and ready for commercial growing, but ongoing education and consulting that can be invaluable to growers as they scale their businesses. As indoor farm technologies continue to improve and become more popular, fixed costs are expected to continue falling. For example, prices for LED lighting were forecast to fall by more than 40% from 2017 to 2020. Since lighting makes up around a quarter of total fixed costs, this represents a significant cost saving to container farmers.
Want to know more?
Don’t miss the 6th Annual Indoor Ag Con May 2nd and 3rd at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Make sure to catch the sessions “What Farm Structures Work Best for Indoor Grows?” with Brad McNamara, CEO of Freight Farms and “How Should We Go About Hiring for Our Indoor Farm?” with Tobias Peggs, CEO of Square Roots.