This Disruptive Technology Could Change the Future of Agriculture

Harry_headshot-150x150When a business closes and gets kicked out of its building, it’s common for another business to sign a lease… especially on valuable real estate. But this might be one of the weirdest exchanges I’ve ever heard.

Newark is the largest city in New Jersey. It’s a major commercial destination. The last thing you’d expect to grow in the middle of a place like this, is a farm.

A new startup called AeroFarms recently acquired an old nightclub in the middle of Newark, and cleared the dance floor to make room for a 15-foot-high stack of planters. They’ve also signed a 20-year lease on a 69,000-square-foot steel factory two miles from it to expand their operation.

No sunlight, no pesticides, no soil… and since it’s in the middle of a city, it’ll bring food directly to the consumer. Now that’s what I call a disruptive innovation.

Hydroponics — growing plants without soil — has been around for a little while. But AeroFarms is taking it one step further with what they call “aeroponics.” This innovation replaces sunlight with LED lighting, and uses a minimal amount of water to spread a mist around the plants.

Just think of the possibilities! Not only is growing food locally much more affordable, it’s far less environmentally damaging. It reduces transportation costs and cuts out the cost of quality soil, which is going up, up, up! Plus, with this approach, the distribution of energy is so targeted that there’s virtually no waste. It uses 95% less water than regular farming. Talk about green!

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But like any disruptive technology, it’s bound to have a few dissenting voices. The health conscious groups will likely reject this at first. Since this food doesn’t come from soil, it’s not “organic” in the strictest sense.

But this sounds like the sort of progression that human history takes. Greater urbanization has been the biggest trend since the late 1700s. Since the early 1800s, the rural economy has been on the decline in the developed world,  and now it is fast disappearing in the emerging world. As we moved to the city, we put less focus on the country. Urban vertical farming is just the next brick in the wall for that.

Imagine the impact technology like this would have on growing cities, not just in the developed world, but also in the emerging one.

Consider that Californrnia — which as you know is suffering a massive water shortage right now — uses 80% of its water on agriculture (which, by the way, only produces 5% of its GDP). Meanwhile, soil, air, and water pollution run rampant in China and India. And food costs are a huge percentage of their consumer living costs.

Innovations like these for the emerging world would eventually reduce the dependence on rural farming (though not altogether). It would also allow even more people to move to urban areas where jobs and labor specialization are much more productive for the economy.

I don’t want to rush to judgment on this. Growing plants without soil sounds absurd. Then again, so did flying in the late 1800s.

Time will allow this technology to prove itself. It already has with hydroponics. But I think aeroponics sounds very viable and very environmentally sound.

This is the kind of local, bottoms-up innovation I see driving the new urban economy of the future. New information will breed new cutting-edge technology. Though it could also mean the beginning of the end of the rural economy, which, like I said, has been on the downturnrn for two centuries.

Right now, consumers and restaurants are already in love with this concept. Local production means fresher food, and fresher food is always better.

I even recently dined in a restaurant that had its own greens literally growing on a freestanding unit inside.

I’m looking at doing that in my own house.

Harry Dent


Follow me on Twitter @harrydentjr

Harry Dent

Bestselling author and founder of Dent Research, an affiliate of Charles Street Research. Dent developed a radical new approach to forecasting the economy; one that revolved around demographics and innovation cycles.