AppHarvest has opened its 30-acre high-tech indoor farm in Somerset, Kentucky, that will grow strawberries and cucumbers and has begun commercial shipments of strawberries.
The farm is designed to grow nearly one million strawberry plants at a time, which are expected to produce for about eight months of the year. AppHarvest is growing WOW Berries for its customer, Mastronardi Produce. The crop is expected to alternate seasonally with English cucumbers.
The controlled environment agriculture facility is designed to leverage sunshine and rainwater boosted with technology when needed and is automated for lighting, humidity and temperature. The farm uses a closed-loop irrigation system, which enables expected water savings of up to 90 percent compared to open-field farming and allows for precision dosing of nutrients, resulting in far less use of fertilizer compared to open-field farming while avoiding pollution from agricultural runoff.
The high-tech farm also features a blast chiller that lowers the temperature of harvested strawberries prior to packaging to extend shelf life. With its central location in Appalachia, AppHarvest is within a single day’s drive of about 70 percent of the U.S. population, which helps reduce energy consumption required to transport the produce and is a key benefit with perishable crops, such as strawberries, to deliver them fresh and with a longer shelf life.
“The AppHarvest team has set a new bar in the controlled environment agriculture sector by bringing these new high-tech farms online quickly and by diversifying our crops to add washed-and-ready-to-eat salad greens and strawberries to our current tomato offering,” said Jonathan Webb, founder and CEO.
“We are eager to see these new farms start generating revenue for the company while they help build a climate-resilient, more sustainable domestic food supply providing good jobs in the U.S.”
According to USDA reports, the value of U.S. fruit and vegetable imports rose to a record level in 2021 and has been projected to keep increasing in 2022. Changing weather patterns – ranging from mega-drought in the Southwest of the U.S. to more frequent flooding to catastrophic wind events – are making it harder than ever for open-field farmers to predict the duration of their growing seasons and to have conditions that result in a quality harvest.
Major food retailers have demonstrated increasing interest in high-tech indoor farms for their ability to de-risk fruit and vegetable production with a more climate-resilient, more sustainable year-round growing solution that uses far fewer resources. Europe is estimated to have nearly 520,000 acres of CEA production compared to an estimated 6,000 acres in the U.S.
For more information, visit appharvest.com.