Every Thursday at 4pm ET, Artemis hosts an episode of Artemis Live Talks, where we interview folks from the agriculture industry. Jo-Ann Ostermann, the Chief Customer Officer at CubicFarms joined us for Episode 23. Here is a summary of what we talked about. For the full interview, click here.
CubicFarms is a Canadian ag-tech company that has developed automated growing systems to support large-scale commercial produce and livestock feed growers. Jo-Ann joined CubicFarms in 2016 as one of its earliest employees and helped build the company from the ground up with oversight across multiple departments including farming operations, R&D, and indoor growing technology installation. In her current role, Jo-Ann is responsible for overall customer experience, encompassing account management and customer support.
Technological Change in the Indoor Ag Industry
Jo-Ann has been in the indoor ag space for over 10 years and shared how much the industry has changed since then. When CubicFarms was founded over six years ago, the technology was expensive and limited. The technological advancement Jo-Ann is most excited about is also what sets CubicFarms apart from other vertical farms – crop motion technology.
“We find efficiencies by moving the plants throughout the module all the time, getting into different climate zones and irrigation. It allows us to have a single layer of lights for eight layers of corps, which is an efficiency. It’s also a great way to reduce labor because all the planting and harvesting and monitoring happens right at the front. [In traditional farming] you go around to all the different plants… whereas in our case [the plants] come to you.”
R&D in Vertical Farming
When Jo-Ann first joined the indoor ag space, vertical farms could support a handful of leafy green varieties. A decade of R&D later and vertical farms are diversifying what they can grow beyond leafy greens, microgreens, and herbs. “CubicFarms is doing a lot of R&D. We’re constantly trying new things. Our culture is really about continuous innovation. Leafy greens, microgreens and herbs are great, we have an amazing crop selection, but there’s more we can do inside.” Jo-Ann highlighted CubicFarm’s Hydro Green technology, an automated indoor growing technology for livestock farmers which can grow fresh feed on site, “from seed to harvest in six days.” This is revolutionizing how livestock farmers feed their herds, with some farmers setting up a schedule that enables them to harvest fresh feed every day.
Food Security in Canada
Even before the pandemic, over one million Canadian households didn’t have reliable access to healthy food. Jo-Ann emphasized CubicFarm’s commitment to community focused growing, and how their approach to tackling food security is more comprehensive than other vertical farms. They are committed to supplying both the greens on people’s plates and the feed that fed the meat on people’s plates. Jo-Ann believes that in a country where there are few places where crops can grow year-round, it’s increasingly essential to grow crops locally and indoors. “There are obviously some extreme climates in Canada. It goes from minus 40 and recently it’s been 100 degrees Fahrenheit… Being able to go indoors and be able to control the climate completely really allows us to produce food anywhere.”
Promoting Community Amongst Farmers
CubicFarms shares Artemis’ commitment to promoting learning and knowledge-sharing between growers in the indoor ag industry. One of the ways CubicFarms promotes this community is through their Farm School Program. “We try to bring all of our farmers and their key staff right on site into our research farm, Pitt Meadows, to get them some hands-on experience and get them to meet the team. There is nothing like a face-to-face experience for a couple of days to build a sense of rapport…. Going forward the plan is to then be able to have those farmers meet each other on-site in farm school and then stay connected online. We’re looking at future developments for our platform for farmers communities.”
Working at the Intersection of Tech and Agriculture
During the last decade, Jo-Ann has seen an evolution of jobs in the indoor ag space. “There is an opportunity in the indoor ag space for a. different kind of farmer. These are the most exciting kind of tech jobs, it’s data analysis, it’s business, it’s tech – it makes farming exciting… Instead of just being straight labor, it’s a more interesting tech and business type of job which I think makes it attractive for the next generation to come in and be local farmers which is what we need.”
Thank you, Jo-Ann Ostermann, for joining us! We agree with her when she says, “What’s better than feeding the world, right?”