Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited several Central Florida facilities on Monday, June 8, as part of learning about the future of agriculture.
“Producing food for mankind is a noble cause,” Perdue said while on a tour of a vertical hydroponic farm, Kalera, based in Orlando.
Perdue praised Kalera for its innovative food production system. Some of the advantages Perdue touted were sustainability, health, and growing perspectives.
Kalera opened its first first hydroponic vertical farm in 2018, the “HyCube” at Orlando World Center Marriott. Just two years later, Kalera has expanded to a second facility, also in Orlando.
The innovative produce company plans more expansions, including to the Atlanta area, which Georgia-native Perdue is excited for. “I’m happy as a Georgian.”
However, like most industries, agriculture was affected by the effects of COVID-19. Perdue mentioned price decreases, as well as vegetables that were already harvested and had no place to go.
That’s why after his visit to Kalera, Perdue was heading to Lakeland, FL, to a food box event, which connects suppliers and distributers to food banks and other non-profits.
“It’s good to be here to see the innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship of the United States of America developing different, better ways to grow and provide food,” said Perdue.
Alternative hydroponic labs in major areas of consumption help reduce cost, delivery time, and eliminate the need for longer, cross-country trucking. However, there are restrictions on the types of foods available to grow. Some successes, Purdue states, are seeing big tomato growth in middle Georgia and even Michigan as examples.
Even with the pandemic, Perdue says foodservice institutions have been real heroes. “Groceries have been amazing; we had sort of a panic run initially on some shelves, but they regrouped with logistics.” Perdue added, “I think it’s been a pretty amazing thing considering the degree of the pandemic.”
While seemingly innovative and ultimately cost-efficient, creating these types of produce facilities isn’t cheap or easy. Perhaps tax incentives could entice potential hydroponic farmers into moving to bigger cities. However, Perdue stated that the whole concept might be possible, but “we don’t want to pit one type of agricultural against another in that regard.”
“Silicon Valley, and big private equity groups understand the future of this,” Perdue adds, “and the investments are coming. Capitalism works best.”
As technology continues to advance, Perdue says places like Kalera have built a “very sustainable system that we think has a future.”
Perdue mentioned current political tensions in China, but stated on the trade front, Phase One is moving along fairly well. “We’re hopeful the geopolitical issues won’t interfere with the trade issues for American agriculture.”
Perdue also recommends young people looking to get into this line of work come and ask for a tour of Kalera. “Producing food for mankind is a noble cause. That really is something that’s a necessity.” Perdue added, “I would encourage all [young people] to investigate how they can be a part of a noble industry and enterprise producing food for mankind.”
Perdue likened Kalera’s efforts to those in the Netherlands, where he says this type of produce production started. Daniel Malechuk, the CEO of Kalera, added, “I look forward to seeing how this industry progresses, and to be the leaders of it in the years to come, both domestically as well as possibly internationally as well in the future.”
Before he left, Perdue added, “The motto of the USDA is ‘Do right and feed everyone.’ But we [as an agency] don’t that… Kalera and companies like that, and farmers across the world, do that.”