SoftBank-Backed Agri-Tech Firm to Build Indoor Farms in China

(Bloomberg) -- Vertical farming startup Plenty Inc. plans to build 300 indoor farms in or near major Chinese cities to meet rising demand from the country’s middle-class who are willing to pay more for safer food.

The company also plans to set up what it calls experience centers in Beijing and Shanghai so that local residents can taste raw vegetables, Chief Executive Officer Matt Barnard said in Beijing Wednesday. The first farm will be built in about a year.

Eating raw vegetables isn’t popular in China, partly due to safety concerns. Families generally fry or boil vegetables to mitigate the impact of any residues from pesticides and chemical fertilizers, according to Barnard. China will speed up production of high-quality and “greener” farm products as it focuses on quality over quantity, agriculture minister Han Changfu said Tuesday.

The vertical indoor farms will help in saving more water and soil and produce higher yields than traditional farms, said Barnard. The farms would help the world’s most-populous country meet challenges such as shrinking water and land resources, he added. In July, SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund led a $200 million investment in the Silicon Valley startup.

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