Indoor agriculture has been outcompeting yield gains in field production and greenhouses by orders of magnitude. As droughts across the U.S. — and the rest of the world — intensify, its promise to use water more efficiently is also encouraging. But the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) industry is still a drop in the bucket compared to traditional farming. Much work lies ahead to overcome major challenges such as sourcing clean energy and lowering production costs.

Plenty has been a pioneer in indoor agriculture and is constructing its second commercial farm in Compton, California, close to Los Angeles. The startup said the production in this new 95,000 square foot operation will be equivalent to 700 acres of farmland and is scheduled to start next year. Other important players such as Gotham Greens and Infarm also have big plans and AeroFarms is preparing to go public later this year, which may be seen as evidence for a maturing market.

I invited Nate Storey, Plenty’s co-founder and chief science officer, to a conversation about the future of the industry. Dive in to learn how Plenty can expand beyond leafy greens, where government funding and industry collaboration are lacking, and why the company’s future may not necessarily lie in the U.S.

Lieb: Despite large yield improvements, indoor ag is still an expensive way to grow salad. What advancements in control systems, breeding, hardware or other areas are you looking to for improved profitability and product variety?

Storey: In the next couple of years, most of our yield gains will likely be accessed by process improvements. That has elements of robotics, machine learning, precision systems, computer vision and so forth. At the heart of it is figuring out how to streamline processes and make the plants grow at a maximum rate. It’s not all shiny and sexy necessarily. But when you partner good old-fashioned horticulture with things like robots and great software and some other tools we have, the outcomes are pretty impressive. Our work on tomatoes is an example of that. Over the past years, we’ve fundamentally changed the morphology of the plant. With fundamental breeding work, we turned tomatoes into a crop that works really well indoors with our hardware. When you understand what the plant and business need and bridge those two things with technology, you get really positive outcomes in terms of yield, quality or labor cost.

Read the full article about indoor agriculture by Theresa Lieb at GreenBiz.