If the world wants to feed 10 billion people in 2050, it’ll need to find a better way to grow food.
Today, about half the world’s habitable land is devoted to agriculture, yet even that amount can’t provide everyone with the sort of diet enjoyed by people in developed countries. If everyone wanted to eat like Americans, we’d need to farm about 140% of the world’s habitable land.
That’s obviously not possible. The other option is to radically boost the amount of food that each acre of land can produce. While agriculture has made impressive strides over the last several decades, tripling production seems like a stretch. One solution is to skip the soil and grow crops hydroponically in greenhouses.
Hydroponic agriculture has a lot of potential — yields for lettuce, for example, can be 10 times higher than traditional farming — but it’s not without its problems. For one, it requires a lot of energy. But that’s relatively easy to solve compared with the industry’s other challenges.
“It’s a bit of a dirty secret that the industry doesn’t really like to talk about, but they have very bad disease outbreaks,” said Paul Rutten, founder and CEO of Concert Bio, a microbiome company focusing on the space.
If the wrong bacteria or fungi get inside a hydroponic greenhouse, “it’s open season — it will just take over the whole thing,” Rutten said. “It’s one big interconnected water loop, so it doesn’t go badly wrong — it goes catastrophically wrong. Everything will just die, basically.”
Rutten and his colleagues at Concert Bio are developing a system to monitor and eventually tweak the microbial ecosystem that lives within hydroponic systems. The team has landed a $1.7 million oversubscribed pre-seed round led by The Venture Collective with strategic investments from Nucleus Capital, Ponderosa Ventures, TET Ventures, Day One Ventures and Possible Ventures. A handful of angels also contributed.