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Lighting Up: How AI and Data Are Making Business More Viable for Urban Farmers

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Lighting Up: How AI and Data Are Making Business More Viable for Urban Farmers

In this episode of Lighting Up with Illumitex, host Daniel Litwin is back with Dennis Riling, vice president of business development for Illumitex, and Mark McDevitt, Senior Horticultural Scientist for Illumitex to discuss big agriculture, urban farming, and container farming.

Austin, Texas-based Illumitex, a digital horticulture solutions provider, has been providing unique lighting solutions for the horticulture industry since 2005. As conventional farming has faced a head-to-head match with urban farming of late, companies like Illumitex have come into the spotlight as growing, viable avenues for digital agriculture.

But is sheer scarcity and usability of land propelling this style of urban agriculture forward? The experts at Illumitex said yes, that’s a factor. Urban land is finding new homes in revitalized urban districts, shipping containers, and unused space.

“It’s even getting as clever as putting greenhouses on rooftop space, utilizing space that would not otherwise be used,” McDevitt said.

However, outside of land issues, the consumer movement for transparency and knowing where their food comes from is largely driving the trend.

“The demand from the consumer is really what drove urban and vertical farming and the technology to support that,” McDevitt said.

Before coming to Illumitex, Riling and McDevitt both worked as urban farmers themselves — designing growing systems, testing lighting, and producing and selling their leafy green produce, but they faced challenges being a small operation in a relatively new market.

“At the time, we had to do everything ourselves to make it work,” McDevitt said. “There really weren’t system companies to just buy the system from back then.”

Assistive AI and imaging tech is helping these operations grow to scale, Riling said.

“Growing plants, you have so many environmental variables, as well as growing variables such as insect and disease, so there’s a lot that can go wrong,” Riling said. “The more data, the better.”

Data is ultimately driving down the cost of raising food.

“With low margins on produce and labor one of the highest costs, anything that can be done to minimize those labor cost with the use of technology and automation just increases the viability of the business,” Riling said.