Media darlings and the castaways (Editorial)

by | Jan 11, 2019

Two companies, let’s call them “Company A” and “Company B,” for now.
Both work with breeders to develop the optimal lines for a high-performing crop.
Both grow in controlled indoor environments using state-of-the art technology to manage lighting, temperature, water usage and other inputs to maximize production far past their more traditional outdoor farming models.
Both grow their products close to or in major population centers and can deliver to millions of customers in a matter of days or shorter.
Both produce a nutrient-dense food, prized in healthy diets and in high demand worldwide.
Company A is Bowery, a hydroponic leafy green and herb producer in Kearny, N.J., that last month closed a $90 million round of investment funding to build a series of warehouse farms in cities across the United States by the end of 2019.
Company B could be any poultry company operating on Delmarva, part of an industry raising more than three times as many broilers than 50 years ago and using half the feed and water to do it.
Bowery calls itself “the Modern Farming Company” and its investors include GV, previous named Google Ventures, the CEO of Uber and a handful of celebrity chefs.
It’s one of a bunch of vertical farm startups in recent years that claim more streamlined capabilities, with year-round production, insulated from extreme weather, pests and aided by advanced data collection.
Bowery and those like it are cheered in the press as the future of farming.
Poultry companies are denigrated as “factory farms” and part of “Big Agriculture.”
This region’s poultry companies were once darlings of the food industry, their innovations allowed chicken to reach more dinner tables more often to where — about 25 years ago — chicken passed beef as America’s most popular meat.
Should the vertical farming methods of Bowery and those like it really take off as its investors wager, with its production commanding a majority share of the market, will it continue to be such a neat story?
The companies will get larger, fail, or get bought by their competitors.
Consolidation would seem inevitable judging by just about every other industry’s path.
Will they then still be the shiny new things oogled over by the public and media, or will their once same supporters find reasons this new food system should be dismantled for another?
At that point, Company A and Company B would be even that much more alike.

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