This interview details Winter Farm, an indoor farming company based in Canada. The interview is with Daphné Mailhot, Marketing & Communication Director of Winter Farm.
What is the origin story of Winter Farm?
Winter Farm was founded in 2018 by Yves Daoust, an engineer with over 30 years of experience in technology and telecommunications who grew up on a farm. Consequently, Winter Farm embraces a unique origin story deeply rooted in a seven-generation farming legacy.
Inspired by his family heritage, Winter Farm recognizes the critical challenges surrounding food security, climate change, and the value of farmers' know-how. Driven by the belief that technology holds the key to a more sustainable agrifood system, Winter Farm embarked on a mission to harness its potential.
Early on, strawberries were identified as an ideal focus due to their high demand and the limited success of growing them on an industrial scale in indoor environments. Winter Farm saw an opportunity to pioneer innovative practices and cultivate this promising fruit sustainably while helping growers be more efficient and profitable. Since then, the company has remained unwavering in its commitment to developing cutting-edge, environmentally conscious, and profitable indoor farming solutions.
What is unique about Winter Farm compared to competitors?
Winter Farm's profound understanding of growers' needs definitely sets us apart in the industry. Our unique integration of a vertical strawberry farm with an adjacent greenhouse exemplifies this understanding. Moreover, our solution directly tackles the critical challenge of heat recuperation in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) by efficiently utilizing the vertical strawberry farm to heat the adjoining space.
This approach not only reduces reliance on fossil fuels but also minimizes the carbon footprint, presenting a groundbreaking solution that combines profitability with environmental sustainability. Our indoor farming solution creates new revenue opportunities for growers, which is of utmost importance. Lastly, our multidisciplinary approach encompasses the incorporation of growers' knowledge, agronomy, systems engineering, and artificial intelligence (AI). Through this comprehensive strategy, we acquire profound insights into the behavior of strawberry plants in CEA. This empowers us to optimize yield, maximize energy efficiency, and enhance overall growers’ revenue.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing your team in the future?
Agricultural practices will inevitably evolve over the next few years due to climate change. Convincing the production supply chain to change their existing practices towards a more indoor model will certainly be a challenge. Winter Farm will be ready to support farmers in this transition.
The industry is facing challenging times. Thriving in a market experiencing a slowdown in investments will be a challenge. While many admire our approach and the effectiveness of our solution to grow strawberries, only a few are willing to assume the inherent risks associated with innovation. As a team, we are focused on actively seeking alternative funding sources and exploring partnerships that can provide us with the necessary support to scale.
How do you measure the impact of Winter Farm so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
We assess our success based on the impressive production yield, financial efficiency, and substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that our solution enables for growers each year. We take immense pride in our journey and the exceptional team we have assembled over the years. At Winter Farm, we are driven by a shared passion, unwavering competence, and a deep commitment to fostering the development of a sustainable agrifood system. Together, we have successfully brought the spotlight of vertical farming to Quebec and Canada, captivating the attention of governments, financial institutions, and private partners who recognize the potential of our solution for the future of agriculture.
From the outset, one of our primary objectives has been to assist growers in replacing 10% of Canada's annual strawberry imports, which amount to a staggering 13 million kilograms. We have recently achieved a significant milestone with the establishment of our innovation center, which is on the verge of reaching its maximum capacity, enabling us to cultivate 1 million kilograms annually. Additionally, we hold a profound aspiration to team up with growers to create an export market in the Northeastern United States. With proactive policies in place to support growers, access to clean and affordable energy, and a notable specialty in strawberry cultivation, Quebec is well-positioned to seize this opportunity and establish itself as a leading provider of high-quality produce to our neighboring region. Through forging new partnerships, we are actively pursuing this goal with great enthusiasm. Furthermore, we are eager to expand our solution to other regions of Quebec, Canada, and the world.
What have you learned that you wish you knew since you started at the company?
In 2018, we quickly realized that the technology available was not as advanced as we initially believed. Consequently, we took it upon ourselves to develop our own solutions on multiple fronts, as relying on existing market options was not feasible. Today, having developed our own technology from scratch and gaining comprehensive mastery over each component, we have significantly enhanced the performance and profitability of our solution.
How can people connect with you or learn more about Winter Farm?
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