Jonathan Webb, CEO, AppHarvest: AgTech Farming for Our Planet’s Future

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Amid the verdant rolling hills of central Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachian coal country, you’ll find 60 acres of a massive, glass-encased structure. Inside, you’ll find row after row of tomatoes. The bounty — sold in grocery retailers like Kroger, Publix, and Walmart — is grown and harvested to precision using data, AI, and robotics by an AgTech company called AppHarvest. But this isn’t your garden-variety greenhouse. It’s essentially a 60-acre robot — a high-tech, data-driven indoor farm. Inside is a tightly controlled environment that uses 90% less water than open-field agriculture and only rainwater to produce crop yields up to 30 times that of traditional farming. “The facility itself is really living while the plants are living,” explains Jonathan Webb, AppHarvest’s CEO. “We’re collecting data all through the facility to optimize for the plant.” Webb joins the podcast to talk about the environmental consequences of what we eat and what’s at stake for the future of agriculture, as the current system depletes our soil and climate change threatens our global food supply. He also takes us inside how AppHarvest is harnessing the best of nature supported with technology to create sustainable agriculture and working to increase food security — one data-driven tomato at a time – and soon to include salad greens and berries.

Listen to this episode to learn:

  • The story behind AppHarvest and its mission to redefine agriculture for a more sustainable, equitable, and healthy future for all
  • How traditional farming often exploits farm workers across the world, and why we all should demand these essential workers get paid a living wage
  • Why the environmental and tech communities should be investing in the economic potential of Appalachian coal country and reskilling its workforce
  • The role of consumer demand and activism in helping to make AppHarvest a more mainstream, recognized brand in the produce aisle
  • From LED lights that automatically turn on when it’s cloudy to ensuring that the perfect amount of water gets directly into the roots, how AppHarvest harnesses data and technology to optimize plant growth — 365 days a year
  • What’s on the horizon for AppHarvest in the years ahead