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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

U Arkansas signs research agreement to help advance company’s vertical farming systems

By David Schwartz
Published: May 4th, 2021

Vertical farming business 80 Acres Farms has entered signed a collaborative research agreement with the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station to advance the science of vertical farming.

Scientists with the experiment station will work with 80 Acres Farms researchers to pursue a variety of vertical farming research topics, said Bryan Renk, director of commercialization for the UA Division of Agriculture’s Technology Commercialization Office.

“Vertical farming is growing and trending,” Renk said. “There are multiple companies forming across the U.S. that are trying to take advantage of that trend.”

Jean-François Meullenet, senior associate vice president for agriculture research and director of the experiment station, said the agreement provides a unique opportunity for research. “We are very excited about this new research partnership with 80 Acres Farms,” he said. “Protected farming is a strategic research direction for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, and 80 Acres Farm is a leader in this area.”

According to Renk, the initial research will be focused on analyzing the chemical components of 80 Acres’ produce, an exploration into new protocols for vertical farming, and evaluation of novel blackberry variety selections that are suited for the vertical farming environment.

“We have a great multidisciplinary team of faculty that can make great contributions to the development of vertical farming technology,” Meullenet said. “I look forward to seeing the impact we can have through this research.”

“80 Acres is expanding its vertical farming R&D facility in Springdale, Arkansas to develop the growing recipes for multiple leafy and fruiting produce crops,” said Victor Verlage, senior vice president for operations, agronomy, and research and development at 80 Acres Farms.

“We are calibrating and aligning all the growing conditions, incorporating several proprietary AgTech capabilities that were not available until recently, to bring hyper-fresh fruits and vegetables loaded with taste and nutrition so our consumers can indulge in healthy diets,” he said.

“We hope to identify blackberry breeding selections that perform well in fully-controlled indoor environments and vertical farms,” added Margaret Worthington, assistant professor of fruit breeding and genetics. “Fruit breeding is a long-term effort,” she said. “We need to be forward-thinking and consider how the potential varieties moving through our breeding pipeline are going to fit into new markets and productions systems that are just beginning to develop.

As part of the collaboration, the company will also provide internships to university students “where they will have access to best-in-class vertical farming technology,” said Verlage. “The students will have immersive training right here in Northwest Arkansas, minutes from the university campus.”

Source: Blue Book Services

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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