I'm a big fan of the concept of Indoor Vertical Farming, so when I came across the company &ever I reached out to their CSO, Mark Korzilius and asked him to come on the podcast to tell me more about their operations.
&ever is a startup in the vertical farming space with a large operation in Kuwait, some interesting hyperlocal operations in Germany, and a larger plant (sorry, bad pun!) opening in Singapore.
I loved that in this interview with Mark, he was very realistic about the advantages of vertical farming - not promising that it will save the world, but rather giving a sober, studied view of its advantages, and the huge advantages they bring.
As you can probably tell, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I hope you enjoy listening to it too.
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And remember, stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane!
Music credit - Intro and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper
But liberating fields from growing unnecessarily salads outdoors and making these fields available, and these good soils available for other protein rich crops is something where we can be of great benefit as we go vertical. And we can easily grow on 1000 square meter 18,000 square meter of growth space.Tom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon or good evening wherever you are in the world. This is the climate 21 podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices and climate emissions reductions. And I'm your host, global Vice President for SAP Tom Raftery. Climate 21 is the name of an initiative by SAP to allow our customers calculate, report and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In this climate 21 podcast, I would showcase best practices and thought leadership by SAP, by our customers, by our partners and by our competitors if their game in climate emissions reductions. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the climate 21 podcast. My name is Tom Raftery with SAP and with me on the show today I have my special guest, Mark. Mark, would you like to introduce yourself?Mark Korzilius:
Hi, Tom. Thanks for having me. Yeah. My name is Michael Korzilius I'm the founder of &ever. I'm 56 years old married have three children. That's maybe the first first introduction?Tom Raftery:
Super. And for people who don't know, could you tell us a little bit about &ever?Mark Korzilius:
Yeah, &ever is a company that I founded actually in 2015. And the the ultimate goal was to find a solution on how to grow locally in a highly efficient, and not only in a sustainable way in terms of ecologically sustainable, but also economically sustainable. Because all investments have to be kind of paid for. So right from the beginning, my ultimate goal was to find a solution on how to be really profitable, but at the same time offer a superior hyperlocal farming solution. It took us some time to really figure out the best way forward that we started in Hamburg from from 2015 onwards, all the way to 2018, when we then decided to build a farm in Kuwait. And in the meantime, this farm is now operational. We are now on route to build a big farm in Singapore. And we focus pretty much on leafy greens, small veggies in this in this farm with this farming technology. What brought me in the beginning to SAP was that I quickly realized the huge complexity of growing crops. It sounds kind of to an outsider like me, I'm not a plant biologist. I'm not a trained engineer, actually, not really in the best position to become a grower. But I was very curious. And I talked to many people. And I quickly realized the complexity is enormous if you want to really replicate in a good way, nature. And for this I then early on contacted SAP was Mike Atlanta Meyer and explained to him where the complexity comes from. And he saw the immediate match for many, many software solutions that sa p can offer. And that's how quite there was actually our first industry partner that an ever had later on other companies that Fishman joins the initiative, but SAP was really at that point, my my first partner starting up andTom Raftery:
Okay, great. And can you tell me a little bit about? I mean, you mentioned you're growing leafy greens, and that you're doing it in an efficient manner. Essentially, this is what's called vertical farming, right?Mark Korzilius:
Yeah. Maybe too much into the industry. And that's what we call vertical farming. But it's also not only vertical, but it's fully indoors is really completely closed climate cells in order to have the most optimal climate control. and reclaim and we nobody has proven us wrong, that we are the only one in the world who has truly full control over the climate disregarding any layer. So vertical means that we can go up to 1520 meters high if we want to. In Singapore, the fun will be 50 meters high. And it's it's it's the plant requires a rather constant climate and to develop certain characteristics. Under certain climate conditions. If it's too cold, it's too warm. If it's too humid, if there's not enough co2, the plant will grow somehow, but it will grow, not very uniform. And what we want to achieve in order to have large scale farms, we want high uniformity that requires us to build something that Is that we create a highly uniform climate. And for this, we need a lot of software, and sensors and data to make sure that this is really in place and works daily. And this is what is vertical farming fully indoors with strict climate control, any layer, any height,Tom Raftery:
okay, and you must be controlling the light as well, because if I remember rightly, from my biology classes, it's daylength, that encourages plants, or it's de lenght, which actually tells plants what time of year it is.Mark Korzilius:
It is it is light intensity, light angle, if you go into greenhouses and you want to grow something in a traditional glass greenhouse, or open field, the first thing the breeder who will give you the seeds will ask you, where Where's your farm going to be? Where's it located, and this will pretty much determine what kind of seeds when to grow into so when to kind of harvest when to expect certain weather conditions, which has two sides to it, why vertical farming because what we see right now with the climate change is that not not jumping fully to another subject, but it's strongly related. Climate change is not that tomorrow, it's like 10 degrees warmer for forever. But the the what the range is you see now in Texas, you know, people have have never seen anything like it. As far as I was told, in the last 100 years. In some areas, it has never been that code that snowy. So these these these extreme weather conditions, that is what we definitely see. Quick, like four days ago, it was like minus 10, here in Hamburg. And now we up to plus eight and these kind of quick changes in weather conditions that's causing plant stress, what we can do an indoor vertical farming, as we fully control the climate anywhere in the world, we have a very consistent climate to grow the plants consistently and one trigger point, isn't it? Well, it's kind of the circadian cycle, it starts somehow, and it may have like more bluish light in the morning, and it goes into more reddish yellowish light in the evening. But on the other hand, we have bc that in some areas, you can really keep the light on for 24 hours. There's some regions in the world where sometimes for a long period of time, it's dark, but it is also a long, prolonged period of time where it's kind of always always sunny or daylight. So plants can adapt very quickly to that. There's not that they require sleep as we as human beings do. So in a vertical farm that we operate today, the day cycle is 18 hours between 16 and 18 hours. And the nine cycles then corresponding six to eight hours. And the light is triggering mostly in terms of spectrum and in combination with the the temperature, the flowering process. For instance, we want to grow strawberries, chilies from many of these small veggies, then we definitely use light light intensities spectrum plus temperature as a trigger to trigger certain responses in the plant.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And play Kuwait. I mean, there's lots of places in the world and you said you're in Hamburg today and you are originally German. What what what triggered a move to Kuwait as opposed to you know, Waldorf or Dublin or somewhere closerMark Korzilius:
that that was actually it is much easier to answer than then people might think, as I said, at the beginning, we were out for the solution to grow in the most economical way. I hate to waste money, I hate to lose money on something that is not necessary. And there's a strong correlation between energy costs, and, and successful growing indoors. So by nature, energy cost in the in the Middle East is very low. where sometimes the the sources might be from diesel, which is not really sustainable. But on the other hand, we have solar. And what is maybe surprising for many, sometimes November you have so much rain in Kuwait, but it feels like northern Germany, and not the Middle East. So Kuwait was was really a safe bet. In terms for for many aspects. One was access to energy that was extremely cheap. And that will give us a large margin of error. So as it's still a prototype phase, we are still a startup, it's still in very much. We are in uncharted territory. So in order to be on the safe side, we were happy to have that option. The other thing was was our partner in Kuwait, an amazing company by the name of Knox management, Knox management, they own and operate the grocery market of Kuwait, which is a 300,000 square meter. Extremely modern, high techs grocery market is something honestly you wouldn't see an ember and it's all SAP based. So you find like people in traditional clothing next to huge stacks of onions, but then you find The small sticker. That indicates there's some some kind of professional tracking and warehouse management and that's all SAP based. So we were sa p based, they were sa p based on the next day they operate cash and carry markets and they have eight restaurants and amazing restaurants. So if you ever in Kuwait, the food in Kuwait is stunning. What I learned in Kuwait is that people compare that Kuwait is what is Tokyo for Asia, is Kuwait for the Middle East. The food is great. So this partner was amazing, the energy was amazing. And it's kind of works nicely. The only thing that is kind of keeping us from, from from showing it to the world is now the virus, the corona crisis, where we are kind of in full lockdown in Kuwait for quite a while, it's still very difficult for us to get in. I just managed some weeks ago to get in there for two weeks with a team. But it's this is the only thing that is kind of bad. But that is kind of true right now for most parts of the world.Tom Raftery:
So I mean, vertical farming has been talked about for a while as a way to reduce the emissions in agriculture for food production. Can you talk a bit about how that works? Because you did say that it is quite energy intensive?Mark Korzilius:
On one hand, it is yes, many people tend to forget that. Or maybe sometimes when we when we when we How can I say this? Maybe more positive way. People come from a traditional side like greenhouses, they often argue vertical farming is a waste of money and time is so energy intense. And then you look into the the details of today's greenhouse farming, especially in wintertime. In summer, you need to cool the water actively in order to get a high level of oxygen. In winter, you need to constantly heat the greenhouse. And it's it's this heat is constantly being emitted into the environment. Like it's constantly there's a heat transfer from the greenhouse into the outside air. So if you look into the details, how much energy is being used in traditional greenhouses, then I think we have a different energy setup, a different energy mix. But we are not as bad as people think and but one key advantage is that we can grow very consistently without any pesticides, which is also energy in itself. up to 18 times a year, we just yesterday I got my new data from Kuwait, we are now successfully growing spinach indoors, which is very difficult for many. I think right now we are the only one that I know of who can grow really large amount of spinach very successfully indoors. It took us two years now to figure out the right recipes and the right substrate. But spinach now we can reduce our our growth time, our propagation time by by up to 15% due to this new understanding of how to grow spinach, allowing us to grow 18 cycles a year. So there is no greenhouse in the world where you can grow more than seven, eight cycles a year due to the light or you add artificial light or LED light as you want to call it. And then we are kind of like same equation. Whereas an open field people say like Yeah, but the sun is for free quotation mark, which is many areas not true. First of all, in many Middle Eastern countries, there's too much sun. So yeah, your thing is about shading. Whereas in the Northern Hemisphere, there is not enough sun. So you need to have artificial light, additional light, starting from October all the way into April. So energy wise, I don't think that that we really see an issue. And also what we see now is that there's solar light and biomass and sustainable electricity coming up. That energy costs will be in and around three to four euro cents per kilowatt. And with this amount of money we can grow really successfully hyperlocal an extremely good product coming to water. Water is also something where we save tremendously compared to growers open field and also vertical farming. We have to imagine like a closed climate cell, we capture all the humidity that is kind of evaporated during photosynthesis. So during the photosynthesis process, water evaporates. And the plant constantly pumps water and it kind of 85% of all the water that the plant is taking up is kind of passed into the onto onto the air into the air, which in a greenhouse condenses and it's gone in an open field condenses and it's it's kind of turns into clouds and whatever was inside we capture that and we circulated into the system and that's a huge amount of water especially when you look into plants like cucumber and many others they consume tons of water to produce a kilo. you sometimes have like 100 liters of water that you need in order to grow one kilos of crop and and that is why we say like, I'm not as as radical as some who claim be safe 99% what I think this is pure marketing. And it's it's a little bit disappointing that many competitors to use these wrong figures but I think if we do 85 to 90% savings of water that's already very substantial for many regions in the world, we circulate fertilizers that are normally applied on an open field, and it kind of dissolves into the air of diseases into the ground, it contaminates the water or the the groundwater. So there are some areas where we really have considerable savings. And so I hope I have covered that in the right way. Yeah,Tom Raftery:
yeah. And there's, there's also the issues of transportation as well, right? Because you could build an indoor and vertical indoor farm, anywhere, I mean, you've built one in the middle of a desert, but there's nothing stopping people from building one in a city center right beside where the food is going to be consumed. So your your food miles are significantly, potentially significantly reduced as well. Many people stressMark Korzilius:
that argument in the beginning also believes it. But let's be honest, otherwise, we will have no future. Forget about transportation, in order to justify vertical farming, I think the co2 footprint per salad had transported from Spain, is completely irrelevant compared to see your footprints that come from la de la whatever, if these guys want to challenge us on foot miles and co2, we would definitely lose. But you would say like, well, if this is not the argument, what is it? The argument is it that in any farm, whether it's a greenhouse, open field or plastic tent, or whenever you want to grow something a vertical farm, your intention is actually if you're consumer focused to bring the best product to your consumer. best product means in terms of leafy greens, you want to have a high nutrients, high in secondary metabolites, everything that is extremely valuable for your body. That's why you consume these greens, not just them because they're green, which also very good for your body glorified. But mostly because of these valuable secondary metabolites. What we do in the industry, we don't do but many do, you grow this in a perfect way over 23 days, and perfect climate perfect conditions. And then at one point, you decide to do just the opposite. You can't squeeze in a bag, you add atmosphere to it. All kinds of things, you cool it down to two degrees, you package it into cartons, and then you ship it and shipping would take one to seven days depending on your means of transportation. So then once you open these bags, and I think everybody has experienced this, the smell is killing. What I always hate if I need to opening these bags is not the way I would like to consume Santa. So we try everywhere in the world, whether it's open field or whatever, we tried to create a great product to the industry we grow great on open field. We grow in greenhouses, amazing products. In vertical farms the same the seed is good, the crop looks good. The only difference is that we don't use any pesticides in indoor farming. But besides that, you have a good product but then it starts quickly to deteriorate. And that is I don't understand you know like that's how we created our idea of harvest on demand. Why should be kind of refrigerated? Why should we cut the salads? I mean, the salad can be delivered like many pot plants today like herbs, why can't we deliver service as a living plant to the consumer. For this, we developed our special substrate, our special logic on how we want to do this. But the crazy thing is about is not about the food minds. It's about the product delivered to the consumer. And your final product is definitely really bad once it's transported refrigerated for overtime. So it's not the co2 food miles. It's the quality of the product that results from your growth process 1000s 5000 miles away from the point of consumption, and our benefit is growing locally, delivering an unrefrigerated non cut product to the consumer. And just to taste This is amazing. And wherever we took our samples, the first results whether it's in now in Kuwait, our chef at the Four Seasons just sent or the chef who works with our products, I would say he said like this kind of coriander I've never tasted in my life. It's so fresh, it's so delicate. That's something I've never had on one of my plates. Right and this is the key thing. It's not the food mites as the as one might think it's it's really the superior product that results from hyperlocal growing. Okay, super.Tom Raftery:
How scalable is this?Mark Korzilius:
Oh, it's very scalable, depending really, on where you are in the world. And people have different reasons to look into vertical farming or As in Singapore right now, especially as food security, they have this program 30. By 30, they want to grow 30% of all food consumed on Singapore soil, they want 30% of that to be produced on Singapore side, which is quite a challenge, the only way is up. There is no big farming greenhouses operational on in Singapore Island in China is about trust, people sometimes tend to not trust whatever is delivered, they want to see they want to kind of believe and see and have local, the local impact in Japan is about high quality. Now they they really care about what the best quality products. So for these markets, there's huge demand. And you can scale and what we learned over time, that the so called volumetric productivity is increasing tremendously once you go high up and you go big. On the other hand, in these large scale farms, we don't want to compete with any 100,000 square meter farms in Holland, they have a different objective. But going big is not going going kind of losing quality. But it allows us to have better, we can do lots of varieties we can do in within one climate sell, we can try out many varieties with good quality, and we can go to 1020 30,000 square meter gross base, which is three Hector's on a rather small footprint. And it's bad. On the other hand, we also have a grow tower, which is really compact, which can sit on any hotel, I just had a meeting here in a hotel in, in Hamburg, how can we establish a small growth tower that only delivers to, to the local hotel scene. So in a vertical farming is at one hand, it's great to scale. On the other hand, it offers solutions where we can really grow hyper locally on a very small footprint.Tom Raftery:
And how did the economics scale? Because I know it can be quite expensive at a smaller scale, or I imagine that from what I've read, it can be but so you're talking about doing hyper local, small, and at the same time, I think the one in Singapore, you said is 15 meters tall. So I can imagine that's quite a bit bigger and should you know, should bring the cost down? No. Sure. And that's kind ofMark Korzilius:
First of all we have in any category, you will find dirt cheap, and you will find whatever expensive and the end is the customer it's a qualified customer decision. You can like if many people argue Yeah, this salad is expensive, or this salad is cheap. What is the salad? It's not defined? It's a salad can be like if you would argue like cars are expensive. Yeah, it only costs 9000. And there are cars who costing 900,000. And car so we need to be be precise and select what we consider a salad is definitely not iceberg. And if you look into most of the bags, they are filled with iceberg, which is 80 depending on the price, the lower the price the highest the content of iceberg, which is a really dirty product full of pesticides, zero taste, it's just the plate filler. But that's not what you're looking for. I mean you can fill your plate with with nicer things and then just adding caesar dressing and then just adding some chicken and tomato that's not really a salad. That's why for instance the USDA doesn't recommend to eat salads. Like like as as a healthy diet because they are you eating salads away from home is on average 750 calories that is at home is under the 50. So are we what are what are what is the salad. So coming to the price point, we see that our mustard mixes for instance, they're so intense and they're so good tasting, there's hardly any dressing needed. And from a price point people don't even look into it. And I rather in the morning I go to the cheapest coffee place around my corner which I could and there's dirt cheap coffee anyway even at a gas station you can get a quite a decent but dirt cheap coffee, but I go to the place where they have this perfect milk, the perfect way to do it. And this is what I think what we see on a local hyperlocal scale. If you can give the consumer an authentic story of locally grown, high quality produce, it's not a matter of money. Now we spend so much more on cappuccinos a day than we spent on salads. So it's really but if there's nothing in the supermarket there are 20 bags in front of you or 50 packages and every package claims by me by me you know I'm the superfood I'm the most Yeah, it's there's this really literally no story behind it the only thing you have a path of the back and the price tech and that's your story. So he be hyper locally we give people a different price point for much better product which they can really identify as a better product. And then it's a it's a consumer decision. And in the end it's a marketing decision. A market driven decision and we are very hopeful and we see this in Kuwait. We get much more of our products right now that we have ever hoped for. So we are very happy with the price point in Kuwait. Wait, and we are 25% cheaper than imports coming in by plane. So it's quite a good position we are in. And that doesn't mean that in Singapore, we can ignore competition. But we are very much aware of it of what is the competitors offering, but most of it is loaded with pesticides, which we can prove. Sometimes we find up to eight pesticides on the settings. Did you opt for that choice? No, but you just have to take it into, like, if you want to consume a salad, we offer a different choice. And if you if you see it, from a consumer point of view, we will not be more expensive. It's mostly than in if you just categorized by sentence that people might might think ourselves might be more expensive. But we look into what is really the content of our product. I think we we are very competitive when it comes to pricing, if we compare, right?Tom Raftery:
Do you think vertical farming is the future of farming of food production of obviously, the type of food production that can be done in indoor vertical farms you it's unlikely, for example, you would produce to your point athlos. In big indoor vertical farms are potatoes, but there are ones that are particularly suited. Do you think that that's where farming should go for those kinds of foods?Mark Korzilius:
That's actually sounds like a simple question was very complex question. Thanks for asking it. But it's unfortunately, it's really difficult to answer because, first of all, I don't I like all our competitors, because we can really learn from them. And it's not just a kind of a nice marketing ploy. But one thing we can learn is stop exaggerating, stop pretending things that we simply will never see, we will not start solve world hunger. Because world hunger is more distribution issue. I believe people who are starving, they don't really care whether they get a mustard mix or an iceberg salad, they have much other things to think about indoor farming for the time being, it's a very simple thing to understand. Any dry mess that you create is the result of co2 and photons. So the more photons you add, the more the highest your energy bill, one way or the other. So the higher your energy bill, the higher your product costs. So when we want to talk openly and in a competitive way, yes, we will be great and leafy greens. Already today, we will in the future see great advancements for cherry tomatoes, and all kinds of small veggies that are really interesting to grow indoors, we will never do as one competitor claim two years ago with Bloomberg and many others, we will never do peaches. And what does that mean? Theoretically, you could I mean, you can grow anything, even in your apartment, you could grow anything you want. It's just a matter of money time, consistency of output availability. And if you want to grow a peach at home, you don't want to wait for two years before you harvest your first peach. people today are more impulse driven. So we want quick results. And that's what is good the good advantage for vertical farming and that's where we are part of a bigger solution in the bigger picture, we can use those fields and those spaces today that are occupied by greenhouses and open field and bring them into a vertical high up and make free up this space in either to grow just some some some wide orbs, so to attract more insects, which is something that our agriculture desperately is in need of, we can we can use that space to grow crops like that are really high in protein, which would be very difficult to grow them in fully indoors, at least something that you're used to. If you want to grow soy and wheat and all of that maize you will never grow this indoors it would be ridiculous. But why don't we use the field that was where we grew rocket salad yesterday and convert that into a wheat field that would be much more beneficial to than doing this once a year rocket on a field in England. We just for instance learned that NASA which I always tried to get away from but they extremely high in protein. And we are now looking into these protein which crops that we could potentially grow but even then this will always be kind of more niche approach. But, but liberating fields from growing unnecessarily salads outdoors and making these fields available and these good soils available for other protein rich crops is something where we can be of great benefit as we go vertical and we can easily grow on 1000 square meter 18,000 square meter of gross space. So that ratio is something where we are good at but again we are not going to solve world hunger and we will not grow anything anywhere. And still we are like in a young industry. And we shouldn't over promise which unfortunately many people do. Okay, okay.Tom Raftery:
We're coming towards the end of the pocket. To know, Mark, is there any question I haven't asked you that you think I should have any topics that we've not covered that you think it's important for people to be aware of?Mark Korzilius:
I think from from from from your standpoint, do we have covered everything that I, I was was was happy to answer, I can't think of anything right now, spontaneously, I think what would be great if we would find more people in, in an on the journalistic or on the media side, who would who try to look more into the details. Unfortunately, there are too many companies out there who drastically over promise and for me, most of the time, they, they, they they quickly want to attract cheap money from wherever. Whereas we really are in here in this business to really grow, we are not exit driven, we are not money driven. We're really here to grow our whole team, we are committed to the growth and if you look into this in very much detail, it's a highly attractive industry. We are we are in it. And I think the only thing going forward is you need more information, more valid information in the market, there's too much too much of of confusing details. That is kind of right now our biggest problem especially also talking to investors, who read from us lots of magical things, the magic wonder photons and the magic crops I think can all grow. And we have to kind of like dig through it and say like, okay, that we try to be the ones that really portrayed as a great solution for certain crops. And this is kind of what is a little bit missing from her from a consumer perspective. But that's the only thing that comes to my mind. That has been we've been been missing.Tom Raftery:
Okay, super great. market if people want to know more about yourself or about andeavor or any of the things we talked about on the podcast today, where would you have me direct themMark Korzilius:
please direct them straight to my email address mark at endeavor dot d I'm happy to take any comments. Even if you didn't like my comments, please do try to learn from it. Yeah, send me send me an email and I'm more than happy to to answer these emails. And if you're interested in getting to know our farms, please contact us once this crisis is hopefully over. Happy to to invite visitors to show our growth our We will now in two weeks time show our first row tower hyperlocal solution in a large retailer in Germany. We have small growth boxes that can also work within the retail space in hotels. Happy to to to show around and yeah, honestly show off a little bit because I'm proud of what the team has achieved in the last five years. We have an amazing team there Munich now will head offices, and also a team and Kuwait's happy to to to show you around and give you a real insight in the last game farm.Tom Raftery:
Fantastic. Mark. That's been really, really interesting. Thanks a million for coming on the show today.Mark Korzilius:
Thank you very much for having me on your show and All the best toTom Raftery:
you. Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks, everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about climate 21 Feel free to drop me an email to Tom Raftery at sa p.com or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you liked the show, please don't forget to subscribe to it and your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.