This interview details Straits Agriculture, an outdoor rooftop farming company based in Singapore. The interview is with Leonard Teo, Founder of Straits Agriculture.
What is the origin story of Straits Agriculture?
Straits Agriculture (SA) first established its concept farm in September 2020. Our first farm consisted of 10 operational aeroponic towers that sat in a rented greenhouse on a rented plot no larger than 35 square meters. It stood as our testing ground as a proof-of-concept farm, aimed at utilizing and regenerating unused rooftop spaces to grow local produce.
The farm was set up to answer the call of the government of Singapore to ramp up local produce production through an initiative known as “30 by 30”, where 30% of our local nutritional needs would be produced locally by 2030. The efforts of this initiative aim to reduce the reliance on external imports for our food needs. The urgency of this initiative was further highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic where food imports were reduced or cut off.
Straits Agriculture’s missions also include producing better quality produce without the use of harmful synthetic pesticides while generating increased production yield when compared to traditional soil farming.
In addition to these two main driving factors, another core value of SA is to ensure our impact on the environment and its biodiversity would be kept as low as practically possible while striving to accomplish the goals we set for the farm. This includes having a passively ventilated greenhouse without the use of air-conditioning and using sunlight as the main light source for plants to photosynthesize.
It took us almost close to two years of research and development at our first greenhouse before we took the next steps to explore expanding into a rooftop farm. As we chased down our next milestone of building a new greenhouse on top of an existing low-lying building, we were met with countless challenges. These challenges include having to source supplies that were difficult to come by as Singapore lacks a developed agricultural industry.
Another challenge we faced was one that any trailblazing startup may have faced as well. Before we were able to erect a greenhouse on our chosen rooftop, we first had to gain multiple approvals from government agencies which proved to be no easy feat. It took us almost a year and a half before completing all required approvals from more than a handful of different agencies in Singapore.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing Straits Agriculture in the future?
On the operational side of things, one of the biggest challenges that SA faces is battling unforeseen circumstances due to erratic weather patterns. Extreme weather such as temperatures reaching high 30°C to a prolonged monsoon season can disrupt our production by slowing down produce growth and/or encouraging problems relating to pests and pathogens.
In addition, the high costs of operating a farm in Singapore can be attributed to two main sources - rental and labor. As a small city-state and being land- and labor-sparse, this tends to be the largest operating expenditure of starting a local urban farm in Singapore.
It is without a doubt that going into the future, challenges such as extreme weather events will plague outdoor farms like ours, which would require us to innovate to reduce the impacts of such conditions while keeping our core values in mind.
What is unique about Straits Agriculture compared to competitors?
More often than not, farms are too focused on production yield, but that is not the aspect we wanted to place emphasis on. We decided to take a unique approach - one that focuses greatly on the quality of the produce especially when it comes to nutrition, taste, and texture.
The first thing that would strike most people about the farm is that we are using vertical growth towers instead of the regular, more often employed hydroponic methods that can commonly be found around Singapore. Aeroponic is the art of growing produce where plant roots are suspended in a chamber of humidified air and misted with nutrient-rich water. Our nutrient formula has the full spectrum of 95+ trace elements which includes amino acids, fatty acids, polysaccharides, and phytonutrients, thereby allowing for a full spectrum growing operation.
We also grow uncommon varieties of produce, which are not regularly found in Singapore. Introducing these varieties to our customers gives them the opportunity to spruce up their meals with more unique choices of vegetables.
How do you measure the impact of Straits Agriculture so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
SA still stands as a very small farm in Singapore. However, while we may be small, I believe that SA has a sizable impact on the local farming industry. Being one of the only rooftop farms in Singapore and pioneering a new type of growing system that is not yet commonly adopted puts us in a position to innovate and introduce new things into the market.
Being a small farm, we do not have the mass market reach of other farms, especially compared to those who sell their produce in major supermarket chains. Nevertheless, it is rewarding to know that even with a smaller customer base, our customer retention rate is high - our customers have been fiercely loyal, and they put their utmost trust in us to provide their weekly produce for them.
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you joined or started the company?
Honestly, I can’t think of something that I wished I knew earlier, as the mistakes that we made, became learning points for us and one that we capitalized on to improve our products. Having to learn and build everything from the ground up, it yielded invaluable experiences that would have otherwise been unlikely for us to have acquired had we hired consultants to build up the operations.
The entire operational framework of our farm came from countless trials and errors. When faced with problems with the farm, our team would come together to devise a suitable, efficient, and effective solution. For example, finding cultivars that will suit our local climate while retaining quality was crucial for us.
How can people connect with you or learn more about Straits Agriculture?
We love making new friends! By visiting our website @ www.straitsagriculture.com, you can learn more about and connect with us by sending us an email or filling out the form on our contact page.
This interview details Canobi AgTech, an indoor farming technology company based in Canada. The interview is with Robin Vincent, Founder of Canobi AgTech. To learn more about Canobi AgTech and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Farmtastica, an indoor farming technology company based in Chile. The interview is with Eduardo Vasquez, CTO of Farmtastica. To learn more about Farmtastica and other indoor farming technology companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Ljusgårda, an indoor farming company based in Sweden. The interview is with Magnus Agervald, CEO of Ljusgårda. To learn more about Ljusgårda and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Neopouss, an indoor farming company based in France. The interview is with Quentin Jeandel, Co-Founder of Neopouss. To learn more about Neopouss and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Allwell Greens, an indoor farming company based in the United States. The interview is with Judy Cari, Founder of Allwell Greens. To learn more about Allwell Greens and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Planet Farms, an indoor farming company based in Italy. The interview is with Daniele Benatoff, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Planet Farms. To learn more about Planet Farms and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details aponix, an indoor farming company based in Germany. The interview is with Marco Tidona, inventor of the aponix. To learn more about aponix and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Al Aliyo Farms, an indoor farming company based in the UAE. The interview is with Tarannum Malik, Managing Director of Al Aliyo Farms. To learn more about Al Aliyo Farms and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details urban-gro, an indoor farming company based in the United States. The interview is with Bradley Nattrass, CEO of urban-gro. To learn more about urban-gro and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview
This interview details Innovation Agritech Group, an indoor farming technology company based in the UK. The interview is with Jaz Singh, Founder & CEO of Innovation Agritech Group. To learn more about Innovation Agritech Group and other indoor farming companies, click on this link!View Full Interview