United Nations studies predict the world will need up to 70% more food by 2050. With more than 75% of the world’s fresh water already devoted to agriculture, water scarcity will be a significant limiting factor in growing more food. That’s why we developed a 10-acre retention pond and cutting-edge circular irrigation system that meets all our water needs using only recycled rainwater.
Constantly aerated with nanobubble technology, the retention pond holds the equivalent of nearly 70 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. Before entering the farm’s closed-loop irrigation system, the water is double-filtered with sand and UV light. From there, each plant receives exact amounts of water via drip irrigation with any remainder once again filtered and then reused.
Our farm’s water system also includes a sophisticated misting system in which machines create a micro-fine mist that evaporates, consuming extra heat inside the facility. The process adds a boost of humidity, which is crucial for photosynthesis.
IMPACT: Our facilities use 100% recycled rainwater and eliminate harmful agricultural runoff.
Our hybrid lighting system substantially increases how many tomatoes we can grow. We combine three invaluable sources of light — sunlight, efficient LEDs, and high-pressure sodium growing lights, which double as a heat source during cooler months.
Our facilities’ roofs are composed of diffused glass to allow the maximum amount of sunlight to travel consistently across our tomatoes. At night or when the sun is obscured, we supplement with sophisticated LEDs, which are 40% more efficient than typical lighting. Each LED utilizes a passive cooling system, producing far less radiant heat. The LEDs also better distribute their light due to optimized wide-beam optics.
Designed for growth, the LED system uses mixtures of blue and red light, which are essential to photosynthesis with red light inspiring flowering and blue stimulating growth. Our growing team develops lighting recipes to boost our harvests.
IMPACT: Harnessing sunlight and efficient LEDs allows for increased, sustainable crop growth year-round.
AppHarvest’s team of advanced engineers, including those focused on machine learning, embedded software and perception, have developed intelligent robots that help manage high-tech indoor farms. The robots evaluate crop health and provide real-time information that improves sustainability efforts such as detecting and eliminating pests naturally, helping our indoor farms successfully grow chemical pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.
Of even greater benefit, though, is how the artificial intelligence will be able to precisely predict crop yield, which has long been one of the key challenges in agriculture. Many downstream decisions from work scheduling to transportation to retail planning are based on yield, and any deviation between projection and actual yield can result in fire drills for numerous functions to adjust for the change. AI helps solve for that.
IMPACT: We can deliver exactly what our grocery partners expect.
AppHarvest is working to develop and deploy universal robotic harvesters to provide a baseline of harvesting support alongside our crop care specialists, who focus on more complex tasks. Our robots can be configured to identify and harvest multiple crops of varying sizes. In recent years, they have collected the world’s largest data set of tomato images, enabling them to identify more than 50 varieties across varying stages of maturity.
Each robot uses a set of cameras combined with an infrared laser to generate a 3D color scan of an area to determine the work it can perform. Once it maps the tomatoes, the robot assesses their orientation and determines if they are ripe enough to pick. The scan enables the robot to find the least obstructive and fastest route to pick the crop ahead of the arrival of the robotic arm and gripper.
Each robot can be programmed to make other quality assessments as well. It can identify hundreds of tomatoes in a fraction of a second without having to connect to the cloud, plus keeps score on its success rate like a video game. A built-in feedback mechanism constantly evaluates its efficiency, so the robot learns how to harvest any given configuration of fruit most effectively.
IMPACT: We pick only the ripest tomatoes.
Our sophisticated systems use 300 strategically placed sensors to ensure each tomato plant receives the ideal amount of nutrients and water.
With continuous access through mobile devices, the system assists growers as they evaluate each plant’s microclimate and validate the precise levels of light, water and carbon dioxide needed for maximum yields.
For example, the natural gas that heats our facilities produces carbon dioxide, which we then partially capture to use as a nutrient for our plants.
IMPACT: We expect to grow up to 30x more fruits and vegetables on a single acre compared to open-field agriculture.
By controlling our environments, we eliminate the need for chemical pesticides. Instead, we practice what’s called integrated pest management, a combination of highly trained employees and sophisticated technology.
We use beneficial insects throughout our facility to control the pest population. And we use hundreds of sensors and cameras to record and analyze high-quality, granular images of each plant, with the goal of identifying any pests before they become a problem. These cameras attach to carts that travel throughout our Morehead farm, providing real-time alerts of risks. Upon discovering areas of concern, the technology also predicts how the issue could expand if untreated, giving us greater insight into these concerns so we can work to fully address them.
IMPACT: Zero chemical pesticides for cleaner, safer foods
Tomatoes are flowering plants and only bloom for up to three days. It’s a short window during which to achieve levels of pollination for maximum yields. We use 500 beehives, each holding up to 125 bees and their queen, to pollinate our more than 700,000 tomato plants.
The bees pollinate through what’s called buzz pollination, a process in which the vibrations from their wings remove and collect pollen. That action fertilizes the flowers, prompting them to bear fruit.
Our technological systems constantly monitor the pollination across all 68 bays and 684 rows of plants.
IMPACT: Our farms align with nature.
We use the latest technology to sort and ship the expected 45 million pounds of tomatoes grown annually at our flagship farm. The process starts with tomatoes being picked ripe for peak nutrients.
Autonomously operated carts transport up to 8,000 pounds of tomatoes along pre-programmed routes from growing areas to be prepared for shipment. Extensive quality control inspections collect data including harvest date, weight and color. Sensor-driven grading technology detects sugar content and softness, so that each tomato we ship meets our high expectations.
Once prepared for shipping, each tomato starts its short drive from our Appalachia home, which is within a day’s drive of nearly 70% of Americans, to its final destination. Because of our central location, we deliver our tomatoes to their final destination with longer shelf life, reducing the growing problem of food waste.
IMPACT: Less food waste, fresher produce, and delivered using up to 80% less diesel.