Plenty is rethinking its growth strategy.
The indoor agriculture startup backed by high-profile tech executives — including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — has canceled plans to open a major Seattle-area farm, GeekWire learned this week. Plenty said it changed plans because the Kent, Wash., facility could no longer accommodate its next-generation vertical farm. The company is continuing to grow in its home state of California but has no plans in the immediate future to launch a farm in Washington.
“We decided that the best course of action would be to hibernate Seattle,” said Christina Ra, Plenty’s senior director of integrated marketing.
In the two years since announcing plans to build a 100,000 square-foot vertical farm in the Seattle region, Plenty developed Tigris, a new facility near its San Francisco headquarters. Tigris is too tall to fit in the Kent facility that Plenty leased in 2017, according to Ra.
“As a relatively lean company, we had to just make a decision about where we were going to put our focus and we felt like building Tigris, while also focusing on Seattle as a new and really important market, was something that we couldn’t do well,” Ra said.
Plenty grows its plants in tall towers inside a climate-controlled facility with LED lights. It does not use pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, or GMOs. The system uses thousands of infrared cameras and sensors to collect data in the farms that is analyzed using machine learning to optimize growth.
The five-year-old startup promises its new Tigris farm can produce fruits and vegetables using less than 5 percent of the water and 1 percent of the land required in traditional agriculture.
It’s a prospect that has attracted some of the biggest names in tech. Backers of the company’s last fundraising round include SoftBank (via its Vision Fund); Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt (through Innovation Endeavors); Bezos (through Bezos Expeditions); DCM Ventures; Data Collective; Finistere Ventures; and Louis Bacon. Plenty has raised more than $200 million in venture funding.
Ra said Plenty ceased operations in Kent a year ago. Some employees were given the opportunity to relocate to San Francisco. Today, three of the employees who worked in Kent are still with Plenty. Ra said it is unlikely that Plenty will circle back to the Kent facility but the company still maintains its lease on the building.
Last month, Plenty announced plans to open a next-generation farm in Los Angeles. With the Seattle-area operation defunct, LA will be Plenty’s first expansion beyond its home markets in South San Francisco and Wyoming.
“Seattle’s still on our roadmap,” Ra said. “It’s a really important market for us. It was just a decision we had to make to prioritize and focus as a small company and the limited resources that we had.”
Indoor farming remains an untested industry with plenty of casualties.
Local Garden Vancouver, a similar crop-yielding greenhouse concept, declared bankruptcy a few years ago. Another startup called Aerofarms pledged to build 25 indoor farms over five years in 2015. To date it has only built one farm outside its headquarters, according to Fast Company. Other startups in the space have struggled over the years.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that three Kent employees still work for Plenty.