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Currently, about 8 billion people are living on this planet. That means there are about 60 inhabitants per square kilometer, and with a prognosis of nearly 9 billion people by 2036, cultivated areas and resources are reclining, reducing goods. It is getting harder to ensure that there will be enough developed areas to nourish everyone on this planet in the future. PhytonIQ is a company that focuses on Indoor Farming. The innovative cultivation methods used are hydroponics, aeroponics, and fleece techniques. PhytonIQ is the only company in Europe building an indoor Wasabi plantation.
Indoor Farming is the term for a type of plant cultivation that is happening vertically. It follows the concept of maximizing and optimizing the output of grown plants, like for the innovative wasabi plantation, while minimizing the cultivated area by maximizing its height. The plantation of wasabi makes them the only producers on the European market. But the company will not limit itself to Europe; it aims to expand its expertise worldwide while considering the importance of sustainability. Quality over quantity is their ambition.
Their indoor farm is inside multi-story buildings and shipping containers, meaning it takes up less space or uses already taken length. As a result, it would not only solve the shortage of cultivated areas we are already facing, which will be a growing problem in the future because of our increasing population. But with the technologies that companies like PhytonIQ are developing, it is possible to conserve resources like water more efficiently.
PhytonIQ was founded in January 2017 in Oberwart (Austria) by Martin Parapatits (degree in construction engineering, life sciences, and astronomy). Eszter Simon (degree in architecture and food technology) and their mission which led to the founding of the company, was “to support a local community or region anywhere in the world, with everything necessary for a normal diet - that being proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins - via a local facility” like Mr. Parapatits told us in our interview. As their core value in their business, they are using the Sustainable Development Goals (short SDGs) as their guideline and “thus creating environmentally friendly and healthy produce. Furthermore, we need to offer our employees a good working climate and a proper work-life balance.” – Martin Parapatits.
Some of the SDGs they are trying to achieve in the future, via the work in and through the company, is SDG 1 – Zero Hunger, SDG 11 - Sustainable cities and communities, and SDG 13 - Climate action. The company's approach to the concept of Indoor Farming takes place holistically. That means they have their plant research and technology development, which means the PhytonIQ constructs indoor farms. An example of one of their use of technology is Aeroponics. It is a form of cultivation in which the roots of the plants are not set in soil but are dangling in the air. They are sprayed with water containing nutrients so that the plants will grow faster than they would if planted in soil. This is currently the most known economical and resource-saving method of watering plants. If used for plants like growing Wasabi and Lettuce, up to 80 – 85% of water could be saved, as Parapatits stated.
The motivation for founding the company is “the increasing challenges of traditional agriculture, due to rapid population growth and climate change, which is not only causing warming but also drought and extreme weather events in general,” as Mr. Parapatits said in our interview. Another reason for founding PhytonIQ, according to Mr. Parapatits, is rising affluence and the resulting increase in caloric intake and new preferences of people, which increases the need for agricultural lands, such as meat substitute products. Mr. Parapatits also wants to bring more regionally produced foods to market, such as plants that are otherwise made in faraway countries, like the wasabi plant. Here in Germany, we usually buy wasabi from Japan and China; more than 60 percent of salads in Germany are imported. He believes that he does not want the company to be a competitor to traditional agriculture but a complement to it. However, he wants to be a competitor to imports to avoid long transport routes.
The wasabi plants in the indoor farm are grown hydroponically, i.e., they do not grow in the soil. The plants are placed in lanes where nutrient-rich water is pumped through.
This process is repeated with the collected residual water. In this way, each plant receives the ideal nutrient supply and can grow better. This method of planting saves 95 percent of water compared to natural wasabi cultivation. In addition, "the wasabi plants consume more carbon than is produced by the operation of the indoor farm," so the business is carbon neutral. To create the ideal conditions for the plants, electricity is, of course, also needed, which the company already produces 30 percent of itself through photovoltaic systems. The rest is obtained from renewable energies provider. In the future, however, they would like to have 100 percent of the electricity and install four wind turbines for this purpose. Another positive point is that PhytonIQ does not use pesticides, and the wasabi plant is also partially processed directly at PhytonIQ. They use 100 percent of the plant, producing no waste products.
A current project of the company is cooperation with BIOGENA, a food supplement company. The plan is to produce low-cost "whole-plant powder" with 80 percent iron content, where the necessary plants will grow on an indoor farm at Oberwart in Austria at PhytonIQ. After all, according to Parapatits, it is estimated that currently, 2 billion people have iron deficiency. These are mainly women who live in poor regions and, therefore, cannot buy classic iron supplement products. They have already succeeded in producing this powder. A few bureaucratic things are still missing, and then they can be made for sale. According to Mr. Parapatits, indoor farming is already a concept of the present. Without indoor farming, we will not be able to feed the world's population in the future without continuing to cut down forests. According to him, indoor farming can also give the land back to nature as the plants can be planted vertically, saving additional space. For the future, it is only essential to create plants in indoor farms to produce economically. This already works very well for some plants, and for others, research work would have to be reinvested.
The company is aligned with the SDGs. It overlaps with SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), as the company founder values a good working environment and work-life balance. He has also emphasized that employee creativity is encouraged. SDG 9 (industry, innovation, infrastructure) also overlaps with PhytonIQ, as what they have developed is an innovation. The reason is that no other company has managed to cultivate such a demanding plant as wasabi on an indoor farm.
Furthermore, they sell the infrastructure for indoor farming, which also applies to the ninth SDG. Through neutral carbon production, the responsible use of water, which they use several times, and try to optimize the planting technique so that as little water as possible is used. The electricity they get 100% from renewable energies and even produce 30% themselves, they fulfill the twelfth SDG (responsible consumption & production). The responsible use of water is also a contribution of the company to climate protection and thus fits ideally with SDG 13 (climate action).
Through their cooperation with BIOGENA to produce an affordable iron powder, they also have addressed SDG 17 (partnerships for the goal) and SDG 13 (good health and well-being) by wanting to support people who lack iron and have low income with their powder. In conclusion, we can say that PhytonIQ is a for-profit company. Therefore, it is a limited liability company, so it is a commercial enterprise (like shown on the Company Website. The company achieves a total of six SDGs and thus promotes sustainable development. It positively impacts the earth by saving land, transportation, and water in growing our food. Running the indoor farm and selling the indoor farms as a concept and the know-how is the central part of the business. The business is scalable and replicable; the indoor farms can work anywhere as they are seasonal and location independent. LED light and water create the necessary conditions for the plants. The only thing to watch out for is the different energy costs in other regions. PhytonIQ's goal for the next few years is to expand in Europe and operate indoor farms in several countries.
Vertical farming gives the company a specific niche in the Austrian market and a high competitive advantage over other existing producers, allowing the company to provide consumers with regionally grown Wasabi, a product usually shipped from the other side of the planet. PhytonIQ has already built a solid customer base in Austria and Europe by selling its products to the gastronomy industry. Furthermore, this revolution in agriculture can be very effective in environments where land suitable for cultivation is scarce, allowing communities to grow their products locally, sometimes in off-seasons that typically would not be able to be produced and that would otherwise come from very long distances. In the interview, Mr. Parapatits hopes his business would expand even more, stating, “Indoor Farming must become more competitive and accessible to all countries, equalizing or even outdoing conventional agriculture.”
One of their most relevant corporations is with the food supplement company BIOGENA; by their request, a unique nutritional plant-based iron powder is created at a very affordable price. This powder helps people with iron deficiency reach their daily mineral requirements.
As an innovator and pioneer in Austria, PhytonIQ is fighting against many of the most critical environmental issues associated with traditional agriculture methods. The negative impact on nature can be significantly minimized through vertical farming by reducing water consumption, avoiding deforestation and erosion of the ground, zero pesticide use, decreasing CO2 emissions, and shortening the route food travels from the producers to consumers. Mr. Parapatits is hoping that more cities adopt vertical farming to reduce the negative impact of traditional agriculture on the planet. By doing so, cities could become more climate-friendly and contribute to a more sustainable world.
Martin Parapatits, Founder
Year founded: 2017
Business Website: https://www.phytoniq.com/de/
Telephone: +433352 90300