Temasek invests in US urban farming start-up

Bowery Farming operates two indoor farms in Kearny, New Jersey. The facilities send greens like kale and bok choy to Whole Foods and salad chain Sweetgreen. The start-up's CEO, Mr Irving Fain, said the fresh funding will be used to open new farms in
Bowery Farming operates two indoor farms in Kearny, New Jersey. The facilities send greens like kale and bok choy to Whole Foods and salad chain Sweetgreen. The start-up's CEO, Mr Irving Fain, said the fresh funding will be used to open new farms in the US and abroad.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ BOWERY FARMING

Firm which uses robotics to grow crops has raised $123m of funds

SAN FRANCISCO • Uber chief executive officer Dara Khosrowshahi and Singapore investment company Temasek are among the latest investors in Bowery Farming, a two-year-old start-up that uses robotics to cultivate crops indoors.

The New York-based company has raised US$90 million (S$123 million) from investors led by GV, formerly Google Ventures, said Bowery's co-founder and CEO Irving Fain. The company declined to provide its valuation.

Bowery is part of a new crop of agricultural technology start-ups growing leafy greens in controlled environments near cities.

Last year, Plenty, a San Francisco-based vertical farming company, raised US$200 million from Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp's Vision Fund.

Bowery grows its veggies in layers of sensor-rich trays that move and react to humidity, carbon dioxide and light.

One sq ft of Bowery's indoor farm is 100 times more productive than an equivalent plot of arable land, Bowery says. Plenty makes similar claims.

Part of the urgency of Bowery's business plan is the prospect of looming global food shortages. The United Nations says food production will need to double in the next three decades to feed the planet's swelling population.

Bowery and its ilk see a business opportunity in building massive indoor farms in and on the outskirts of cities - a costly proposition, but one that could cut down on waste and ensure fresher produce.

"This round is solid validation for the scope of the problem and the opportunity," said Mr Fain.

To date, Bowery has raised US$118 million from investors, including First Round Capital and General Catalyst.

Mr Fain said Uber's Mr Khosrowshahi became an investor because of his interest in futuristic cities. "Uber is a big believer in cities and the importance of sustainable cities," said Mr Fain.

Bowery currently operates two indoor farms in Kearny, New Jersey. The facilities send greens like kale, bok choy and butterhead lettuce to Whole Foods and salad chain Sweetgreen. Mr Fain said the fresh funding will be used to open new farms in the US and internationally.

Bowery declined to disclose how many new farms are in the works or where they would be located. "There is no question that we intend to have our farms in cities across the world," Mr Fain said.

Mr Andy Wheeler, a Bowery board member and partner at GV, echoed Mr Fain's global expansion ambitions.

"The company is poised to have a significant impact on the global produce market," he said.

Bowery is planning to expand its headcount too, Mr Fain said. The company employs 65 people.

Some of these employees could come from Amazon, Mr Fain suggested, though competition for talent will likely be tough as the e-commerce giant ramps up hiring for its new office in New York.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2018, with the headline 'Temasek invests in US urban farming start-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe