If the world If we want to feed 10 billion people by 2050, it will have to find a better way to grow food.
Today, about half of the world’s habitable land is devoted to agriculture, but even that amount cannot provide everyone with the kind of diet that people in developed countries enjoy. If everyone wanted to eat like Americans, we’d have to farm about 140% of the world’s habitable land.
That is clearly not possible. The other option is to radically increase the amount of food each acre of land can produce. Although agriculture has made impressive progress in recent decades, tripling production seems like a long shot. One solution is to skip the soil and grow crops hydroponically in greenhouses.
Hydroponic farming has a lot of potential – for example, yields for lettuce can be 10 times higher than traditional farming – but it is not without its problems. First, it takes a lot of energy. But that’s relatively easy to solve compared to the industry’s other challenges.
“It’s kind of a dirty secret that the industry doesn’t like to talk about, but they have very serious disease outbreaks,” said Paul Rutten, founder and CEO of Concert Bio, a microbiome company focused on space.
If the wrong bacteria or fungi get into a hydroponic greenhouse, “it’s open season — it’ll just take over the whole thing,” Rutten said. “It’s one big interconnected water loop, so it doesn’t go terribly wrong, it goes catastrophically wrong. Everything just dies, actually.”
Rutten and his colleagues from Concert Bio are developing a system to monitor and ultimately adapt the microbial ecosystem that lives in hydroponic systems. The team has secured an oversubscribed $1.7 million starting 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.