This interview details OneFarm, an indoor farming company based in Europe, with offices in the Netherlands and UK. The interview is with Mira Merme, Founder and CEO of OneFarm.
What is the origin story of One Farm?
The initial steps were taken by me as the founder but for many years now we have functioned as a team.
I founded OneFarm after having worked for many years in indoor agricultural production and in the catering industry. I realised that the impacts of climate change on food supply would be significant. Therefore in 2010 I started to create a process that would de-risk the food production and distribution.
The challenge of increasing additional food supply given the large amount of food required to feed populations is extremely large and the additional food supply from vertical farms can help in addition to other improvements and innovations in greenhouse and field agriculture.
The key components for OneFarm were that the food needed not only to address the challenges of climate change but also needed to be highly nutritious, tasty, pesticide free, use little water and have low environmental impact. In effect the fresh food produced would need to be supplied for local needs to help ensure food security and price accessibility.
By 2016 lighting had improved in efficiency and lowered in costs so much that it enabled the vertical farming to begin to be a viable economic model. Nonetheless the choice of equipment supplier was going to be critical as we required some critical key features which were not readily available.
OneFarm required dynamic lights to ensure that we could reduce power usage and optimise recipes for specific crops. We required air-locked systems to ensure no pesticide use was needed. We required flexible farm infrastructure allowing for a variety of different crops to be grown allowing for change over the next 25 years. We tried many systems before finding a system through IGS which delivered what we need. So we have partnered with IGS over the last 5 years.
OneFarm spent many years testing core inputs such as seeds, substrates and plant nutrition to create a yield based business model. The OneFarm team was recruited with core competence as experience in the food industry in growing, delivering consistent quality, sales and plant research. The team is a very flat structure, we are all capable of growing, picking and creating the quality of the food we want for our clients.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing One Farm in the future?
The funding of large-scale production is key and growers need to bring funders on a journey helping them to understand the enormous size of the market. We believe that there is room for many players and that there are different challenges in different geographical locations. Farms need to be built with this at the forefront of their thinking it is a hard message to disseminate.
We spend a lot of time explaining that there are very few square metres of vertical faming companies and there is a need for a large amounts of food to be produced. This new system for farming is, when at scale, an infrastructure investment where the upfront costs are important but the running costs have excellent EBITDA results.
Ensuring that there is an ongoing public conversation which focus on the absolute need for food quality and security. Communicating clearly with the public so that they understand what these systems can produce 365 days of the year. Putting the product at the centre of the discussion, thereby ensuring a strengthening of the nutrition qualities and the shelf-life of indoor food production.
What is unique about One Farm compared to competitors?
I must make a disclaimer that it is hard to get information on competitors the statements below are less that our competitors may or may not also have qualities stated below and so I am simply stating what we think is important in our production
- we truly do not use pesticides because our systems are airlocked
- we provide a basket of foods not just high end product
- we are fit for purpose by having adaptable systems in a changing market where in the next years different crops will be needed
-we have a pipeline of new and varied crop
- we provide to local populations and do not export
- we do not develop our own hardware - (just like farmers do not build tractors), but we develop the highly nutritious product by concentrating on growth recipes and cost effective growing
- our products have extremely long shelf life without any chemical or other additives, this is achieved through the growth process.
- we can grow for the botanical, cosmetic and plant pharma markets
How do you measure the impact of your company so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
We measure revenue, EBITDA, yield per m2, payback, and in addition we also measure environmental impact, water use, energy use, nutritional value, shelf life (which also minimises waste)
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you started the company?
It has taken funders a while to understand the differences between business models in this sector. Site accessibility through covid it was more difficult to be able to secure buildings of the quality and dimensions we required as our competition was Amazon and DHL. This is no longer the case.
We had not anticipated that some landlords were not been interested in the importance of food production to the UK public. We believe it would be important to engage with government ministers to see what incentives for buildings and renewable energy to be provided so that landlords would benefit as well through tax exemptions for letting to food or other essential companies on more interesting terms.
It would make sense for government to support agriculture of all kinds and food producers rather than treating these like any other business. Good quality fresh food supply is key for vulnerable populations and where this is not possible it has huge impacts on population health and specially on children's health.
I am keen to make clear that vertical farming is in no way a substitute for other forms of farming which remain essential. Vertical farming is needed to increase safe production and to compensate for the large scale loss of open field production through changing weather patterns with impacts shown from floods, high temperatures, cold spells as well as decreasing agricultural water availability.
Net zero targets are needed but are incredibly difficult to achieve though usual production methods where fertilizer and pesticides are a trade off with yield losses and environmental impact and decreasing field agriculture is simply not an option we will need every current production and more. I have heard the comment “there are so many vertical farms”, unfortunately, there are simply not enough. The production gap is enormous and the solution is to enhance production certainly in the Uk and many other countries as well.
How can people connect with you or learn more about One Farm?
We are happy to respond to questions we are keen to ensure the public has the necessary information to understand this new category of food.
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