Sam Bertram – OnePointOne – Ep 13

Sam Bertram, CEO at OnePointOne

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, we’re joined by Sam Bertram from OnePointOne, who we will be talking to about how their advanced vertical farming system is working towards reducing the amount of annual food and resource loss within the fresh produce industry.


[00:00:00] Mitchell Denton: Hi there and welcome to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain.

Today on our show, I’m joined by Sam Bertram from OnePointOne, who I’ll be talking to about how their advanced vertical farming system is working towards reducing the amount of annual food and resource loss within the fresh produce industry.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Hi, Sam. Thanks for joining me on the podcast today. How are you?

[00:00:27] Sam Bertram: 11 out of 10 mate.

[00:00:29] Mitchell Denton: 11 out of 10, that’s a high number. I seem to be detecting an Aussie accent, but you’re based out of the US is that correct? 

[00:00:36] Sam Bertram: That’s right it’s fake. I do my best, but I still just can’t fake it well enough.

[00:00:40] Mitchell Denton: Okay. I’m, I’m pretty good with accents. So if I was to venture a guess, do you hail from Victoria?

[00:00:47] Sam Bertram: I do have from Victoria, what is it that made you not think on from Adelaide? 

My slurring?

[00:00:54] Mitchell Denton: Honestly, it’s hard to put into words, but I, I have a thing where I can pinpoint a bit of an area as to where people are from just by hearing their accent.

[00:01:04] Sam Bertram: That is, you know, for Australia that is unusual mate, because if you’re in California, you can, you know, pick Texas off from a mile away. If you’re in Melbourne, like trying to pick someone from Sydney, or Brisbane, or Adelaide, or… maybe Darwin would be easier, I dunno. 

[00:01:16] Mitchell Denton: Honestly, it came down to Adelaide or Melbourne. So, you know. 

[00:01:22] Sam Bertram: You picked the better of the two. 

[00:01:24] Mitchell Denton: I’m not gonna get specific because I’m not that good, but. 

[00:01:27] Sam Bertram: Yes you are, just believe yourself.

[00:01:29] Mitchell Denton: Well, okay, okay. If I have to narrow it down a little bit more, I don’t want to say Melbourne, cause that feels like a cop-out. I, I want to say that you’re in like the surrounding suburban area of Melbourne, is that correct? 

[00:01:43] Sam Bertram: I’m a suburban lad from Wheelers Hill, Victoria, if you can sound any more country than that, it’s not quite country, but that is where I hail from my friend.

[00:01:53] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Nice. All right. Well, pat, on the back to myself, I did pretty well there. 

[00:01:57] Sam Bertram: That is pretty good, mate. It’s pretty good. John Edwards.

[00:02:00] Mitchell Denton: John Edwards. That’s right. Well, before we get into it, I just wanted to give you the opportunity to tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you do. And while you’re at it, please tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know.

[00:02:14] Sam Bertram: Well, my name is Sam. I came from Australia, my brother and myself, are relatively good at hitting yellow, fluffy balls around concrete courts painted with lines. So we came over to the United States to continue that, uh, that hobby slash profession. 

And then ended up going through our engineering undergrads and graduate school and, and asked ourselves a couple of pretty serious questions and ended up with OnePointOne being the answer but, myself uh, I’m an exceptionally normal person. 

Uh, I very much enjoy what I do, I have a passion for what I do, and I love the people that do it with me. I have a wife, I have a beautiful three-year-old daughter who is the absolute love of my life. I enjoy riding motorbikes and my back’s broken, so I can’t play tennis. 

Uh, I don’t, let me see interesting stuff, there really isn’t much. Let me hold on that one, I’ll sprinkle that one in with my knock-knock joke later, later, about 30 minutes in. How about that?

[00:03:13] Mitchell Denton: Okay. that sounds good. Well, on that note, let’s talk farm to fork. So continuing on from you telling us what you do, would you mind telling us how the idea for OnePointOne first came about and how its day-to-day operations run as a vertical farm that supplies fresh produce? 

[00:03:30] Sam Bertram: Sure, mate. So, my brother and I finished our undergrad and grad, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering degrees. Uh, we asked ourselves the question very simply, “How can we make the greatest impact on humanity in the shortest period of time?” 

And you come across, you know, many answers to that question, nuclear power, desalination, forms of education, transportation, many, many answers that question.

But when we discovered that 1.1 billion people began this millennium malnourished, that was sort of the galvanizing moment where we knew we had to do something to do with nourishment in general. And so when we researched, you know, why was it that so many people, triple the population of the United States did not have reliable access to food?

Uh, the reasons became quite clear, and so, when we were thinking, and this kind of problem doesn’t get solved in five years so we weren’t in here to develop, you know, an operations optimisation app and then dip, we knew we were going to do this for quite some time. We discovered that vertical farming has a massive, massive opportunity to assist with the solution of that problem.

And the number two risk factor determinant for mortality, which has poor access to medicine. This technology is very good at producing plants, it’s very good at generating data about plants. And when you produce plants in this fashion, you can use these plants as bioreactors to produce molecules.

And those molecules can be very useful, in that they are the medicines that really may help the poorest of the poor. so that was the moment we knew we just needed to figure out a way to grow plants better and coming across vertical farming, uh, problems that needed to be solved in order to make it a short-term economic success, the medium term economic successes that we’re capable, and what technologies we need to develop and so forth. 

We knew very quickly that this is what we needed to get into. Also our backgrounds short as they are, were quite applicable to vertical farming. 

In terms of our day-to-day operations. Uh, you know, we have facility over in San Jose, we have a facility in Arizona that we’re building currently. We have, have a team over in San Jose, that’s responsible for the day-to-day production inside of our system in San Jose. And then we have many engineers over there as well, and a team over in Arizona, that’s assisting with the construction of our new facility.

So, we have almost 90 employees, we’ve raised $28 million in the past. We’re closing right now on a Series A round that more than doubles that, uh, that is about that, mate.

[00:05:59] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, wow. That’s impressive. You’ve, uh, raised quite a bit of money and got a decent amount of employees in such a short amount of time, so that’s awesome. So on that note, what would you say separates OnePointOne from other vertical farm systems? 

[00:06:13] Sam Bertram: Sure there, there are two main buckets of analysis. The first one is cultivation tech, the second one is automation tech. Number one, cultivation tech is about how do you grow your plants? What is the orientation of the plants? How do you irrigate the plants? How do you aluminate the plants? How do you keep the plants in the correct microclimate at different periods throughout the day? 

So that’s cultivation tech and then automation tech. Uh, the reason it’s its own bucket is because labour occupies such a massive amount of the operating expense inside of these farms. So from an automation technology perspective, how do you automate the greatest number of functions with the highest level of redundancy at the lowest cost?

And we could look to other industries, for example, ASRS, automated storage and retrieval systems. How have they solved that problem? Essentially, we took the ideas from the ASRS industry and applied them to vertical farming, to automate the greatest number of functions within the farm. For example, seeding, plant movement, light movement, plant inspection, packaging, harvesting, facility cleaning, so forth.

How do we automate those functions with the lowest cost, with the highest level of redundancy? In other words, if something goes wrong, we need another system ready to back that system up in order to perform the function that the original robot was meant to perform. So terms of cultivation technology, we are the only organisation that employs vertical plane aeroponics, uh, vertical plane aeroponics means a vertical plane, we grow out of a wall. 

In essence, we grew out of both sides of a wall, that’s what vertical plane means. And then aeroponics is where we irrigate the plants rather than with soil and moist soil or with hydroponics, which is a volume of water. 

Aeroponics is where the plants drink from a mist, a nutrient infused mist. So that vertical plane aeroponic combination, not only is it the most productive of all orientations in irrigation methods, we are the only ones that are doing it, and we’ve been filing intellectual property around that since 2017. 

On the automation technology side, our use our invention of fleet robotics to automate away, a wide variety of functions within the farm, allows us to perform the widest variety of functions with the highest level redundancy at the lowest cost.

you know, you see a lot of other vertical farms that have automated plant growth, you know, all automated their illumination and their, their irrigation systems. You see, you know, a number of vertical farms that have automated the movement of plants throughout their life, you know, from germination to adolescence, maturity, harvest and so forth.

But what you see less of, is the automation of image capture, the automation of camera movement, the automation of light movement, the automation of route inspection, these kinds of things you don’t see other organisations are automating because they generally have to develop brand new automation systems to be able to do those things.

We’ve, we’ve built our system from the ground up so that that one fleet can handle all of those functions.

[00:09:03] Mitchell Denton: That’s really cool to hear that innovation within aeroponics. So that’s really awesome. What would you say is one of OnePointOne’s biggest challenges right now? And how do you think your team are going to overcome it?

[00:09:13] Sam Bertram: Well I think because this technology is so complicated, you’re not only taking something that is a complicated, mechanical, electrical and software driven machine.

You’re also bringing in plant pathology, plant physiology, growers, insects, pests, and disease managers, and so forth. It’s an extremely multidisciplinary endeavor, and what that requires is a huge amount of teamwork. And that teamwork is often hard, in fact, in many cases, the incentives for the team that are growing the plants are different from the incentives of the team that is engineering the system, right? 

So that is very complicated and very hard, thankfully, the team that we’ve accumulated is just unbelievable. We, we call ourselves cousins. Uh, have a great family of, uh, of employees and friends over here at OPO. 

But the most difficult thing is the technology. Now I will say, you know, in the beginning there were a couple of questions we didn’t know, we could solve with money.

For example, does a vertical plane aeroponics even work in a reliable fashion? Does our form of fleet automation even work in a reliable fashion? Thankfully those questions were solved quite quickly. But of course, innovation will not stop with vertical farming in the next five years.

You’re talking about a fundamental shift in the means of production of plants worldwide, there is a lot of work to do so not only is the work difficult and multidisciplinary, it’s also very hard to say no. What are you saying no, to doing? What are you saying yes, to doing? 

Resources are finite and there are lots of good ideas, but making sure that you’re choosing the right good ideas of the right time is also very difficult.

I think we do a good job of that, but that is a persistent challenge that we encounter.

[00:10:55] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, totally. I think having a good team definitely goes a long way. Um But yeah, the innovation and the always developing and turning new corners, it’s kind of essential to have a good team in the wings. So that’s really cool. 

[00:11:09] Sam Bertram: You’ve got to, I mean, you, Elon Musk said, uh, you know, starting a business is like eating glass, I wouldn’t go far. But there were lots of difficulties, but I think, you know, it’s something that we’ve been instilling into our employees. And I think our employees have instilled inherently a just positivity.

Positivity is really, really important, being negative is easy. Now we’re not saying be blindly positive at all. But positivity is fundamentally important to a startup because you’ve got to be able to see the forest through the trees and you’ve got to be able to see the glass half full or else every week you’ll be thinking, “Ah bloody hell, here we go again”. 

Thankfully, we don’t think that way.

[00:11:46] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got to stay positive. I was reading up on your personalised farming service, Willo. Would you mind for the listeners just explaining what that is and how it works? 

[00:11:57] Sam Bertram: Sure, right about 1945, the number of farms and the sizes of farms, uh, there was a switch, right? We went from small localised farming to very large industrialised farming to be able to feed the nation. And that was good in quite a number of ways, but it was also bad in, I would say many others.

So what Willo does is, is reconnect you to the farm. The farm is local, you can control your own farm within Willo’s facility, and you get to choose what you grow on your plot. Uh, so through a mobile application, you are able to choose out of a very long menu of individual crops and crop mixes, what crops you want to grow. 

And what this does, the consumer is now demanding transparency, the consumer wants to understand where these products come from, and also the consumer wants to know that this is the highest quality product that I could possibly buy for my family, right? 

And so that’s what Willo really delivers on, it reconnects you to your farm and gives you control of not only what you’re growing at that time, but also what our farm introduces over time. Is there a specific kind of radish that you would like your farm to be able to grow? If so, request it and we’ll throw that through our crop R and D and bring that product to you.

So, that control is a significant part of Willo, but at the same time, the very wide breadth of crops that we can bring, it allows us to bring more crops, both crop categories, and more varietals within categories, uh, to the fore and to that menu faster. 

A lot of other vertical farms have to sort of hold themselves to the leafy greens and only the leafy greens, because a the other economics don’t work. Because this is direct to consumer service, it allows us to grow a wide variety of crops and crop categories than just leafy greens.

[00:13:49] Mitchell Denton: That’s awesome. Exactly what you’re saying. I feel like a lot of other companies that I’ve kind of brushed shoulders with, it’s very much been leafy greens, which is great. And it’s something that we, we really need to be pushing into, but to be able to expand that scope is really exciting stuff. So that’s great.

[00:14:07] Sam Bertram: I agree, and more to that, if I may. 

So, what we’re talking about with traditional agriculture is one of, if not the oldest industry. And so 10,000 years of innovation is being pitted against five years of innovation in vertical farming. And it’s good that these pressures are on vertical farming. It drives innovation, but the whole industry expects five years of R and D to be able to match and exceed the capabilities of a 10,000 year old industry. 

In some ways we can, and in some ways it’s difficult, but, uh, you know, leafy greens are a fantastic entry point for vertical farms, but by absolutely no means, uh, is leafy greens that the sort of final frontier or final capability of vertical farms, it is just the beginning, that’s the little pond before the ocean.

[00:14:54] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve never really considered the timelines of traditional farming, which has been around since civilization compared to the last few years of vertical farming and trying to kind of compare the two. So that’s an interesting take that I’ve never really considered.

That kind of leads me to ask, what’s the biggest surprise you’ve found with working within a more innovative frontline of the food supply chain? 

[00:15:18] Sam Bertram: I think there’s, I think there’s a lot of resistance in, uh, any industry that is facing disruption or facing innovation. But the nature of the agriculture industry is different than a lot of other industries. For example, a farmer really has 40 attempts in their life, to grow a fantastic crop and that farmer doesn’t want to sacrifice his or her yields for a new startup that’s coming in from the side and saying, you know, I can solve the world’s problems.

Uh, so there was a resistance to innovation there, that really turned John and myself away from the traditional farm, and even in some cases, the greenhouse farm, because we just couldn’t see a way that we could innovate fast enough when you are beholden to the environment that you are growing in. Um, but you know, there are challenges everywhere, you know, summing up all of my challenges.

It’s nothing compared to the challenges of many. But there are a couple of interesting resistance points in this industry. One thing that I am not a fan of is this absolute cost driven model. I understand why it’s there, I understand that it is successful, and it is, I suppose, the incumbent structural framework within which we must operate.

So I understand all of those things, but you don’t go to the Mercedes dealership and ask the dealer, “Hey, which car weighs the most? I want to buy the car that weighs the most”, you know what a ridiculous, I understand why again, but now when you think about what a ridiculous way to measure your food, food about nourishment.

Food is the basis of human health, so when I go to the store and I buy a pound of spinach, I have, I have no idea, you know, how nutritious that product is, especially with its deterioration path, uh, through the supply chain. So it’s, it’s funny, it’s sort of funny ways of, uh, of describing and prescribing value to how human beings purchase their food.

That’s also been very fascinating to me and I think that is going to change.

[00:17:16] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, it’s kind of funny when you say it out loud, but valuing a product due to its weight seems so backwards.

[00:17:25] Sam Bertram: It is but it’s it’s it is, it makes sense as to why, because it is a reliable metric that everyone understands that they can buy against of course. Uh, but you know, it, it doesn’t allow the consumer to discern between a very high quality product and a low quality product, it’s just like organic.

I mean, organic is this stamp that has just been butchered, absolutely butchered. It was a meteoric rise of organic, but now people are really starting to be skeptical when they find out organic does not mean pesticide free. But yeah, I agree with you mate, it does not make sense to analyse the value of a product based upon its weight when its real value is it’s nourishment.

And I think that with data transparency, uh, that is really going to turn around.

[00:18:07] Mitchell Denton: It’s it’s kind of wild that such a large industry that’s been around since the dawn of time has been so reliant on basically sensory testing. And it’s like, I mean, for, for us at PostHarvest, we’re trying to have a highly sensitive, sensor system that can detect a bunch of different factors.

[00:18:26] Sam Bertram: Yeah. 

[00:18:27] Mitchell Denton: But for a lot of industry people to be going off, just purely looking at fruit and vegetable products and reducing them to just smell and touch. It just seems so backwards to me, there’s so many nuanced factors that are slipping through the cracks, nutritional contents, the respiratory rates, all those types of things.

It just kind of blows my mind that such a large industry is content to lose 45% of all fruits and vegetables across the year. Just relying on old Joe Blow to kind of give you the thumbs up on, on whether or not that watermelon is sellable.

[00:18:59] Sam Bertram: Yeah, exactly right, and the way, what that forces is a form of innovation that focuses squarely on cost. So what that doesn’t allow people to do on mass is to innovate, based upon quality or cultivar. What you see is mass production, the strip mining of the Earth resulting in 75% of US topsoil gone, right?

And the innovations aren’t necessarily focused on improving the quality of the product, it’s about getting costs down, and that’s, that’s the way that a lot of investors, that’s the way the supply chain looks at us as, you know, what supply chain problems are you solving? How are you going to drop my costs?

And that’s okay, we’re going to fit into that system for a period of time. But when we come out with a product that is far greater quality, double to quadruple, the shelf life, zero pesticides, heavy metals, tens to hundreds of percent more, uh, greater nutritional value across the board. And we can do that at the same price or lower that’s when you see transformation, that’s when you see disruption.

[00:19:58] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. So continuing on this line of thought, what’s the misconception that you find a lot of people seem to have about vertical farming? 

[00:20:06] Sam Bertram: It depends on who I talk to. Um, I think some people on the early edge of the curve of vertical farming, think that vertical farming is a panacea, that’s not true. Some people see vertical farming as replacing outdoor farming in the short term, that is certainly not true. 

There are things that vertical farms are good at, and there are, there are crops specifically that vertical farms are good at and crops that vertical farms aren’t good at. Some of the ones that vertical farms currently, aren’t good at, are wheat, corn, soybean, rice, and the other crops that make up 60% of the Earth’s calories. 

Those crops, because the value of those products is just so low $700 per ton. It doesn’t make sense for us to grow them, so it’s, it’s not a panacea.

I also think it doesn’t make sense that the Earth gets 60% of their calories from those five crops, that’s a different conversation. Uh, those were a couple of misconceptions, on the other side of the curve. Uh, I think that there are some misconceptions around what problems need to be solved.

A lot of people talk about electricity. The question of electricity comes down to where are you getting your electrons and how efficient are you at using them? Electricity isn’t necessarily the problem that’s holding vertical farming back, it’s actually labour. This is a very complicated process and it requires human intellect to be able to achieve the outcomes desired by these farms.

So, uh, I think those are a couple of the main ones, but you know, it’s, it’s very rare that something that the truth of something sits at either extreme, vertical farms are an incredible technology that will make humanity a, a better place. But in the next five or ten years, it’s not going to be where the Earth gets 60% of their calories. 

In the next 30 years I’d make a different argument. But not many people want to live in the 30 year horizon, they’d prefer to live in the two to five year horizon, so that’s fine with me. 

[00:21:51] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. I mean, to echo your point from earlier, vertical farming is still very much in its infancy, but it will be interesting to see what that looks like at the 30 year mark. 

So has the COVID pandemic for better or worse, had any effect on your day-to-day operations, and if so, how?

[00:22:08] Sam Bertram: It has had some effect on our operations, a lot of what we do is already automated, so it didn’t have too much of an effect. As an organisation, since we have a lot of engineers and a lot of people who need to have boots on the ground, there were protocols that we had to put in place. I don’t necessarily think that that’s your question.

From a market perspective, very interesting things have occurred and actually quite quickly, the penetration of e-commerce just shot up, especially last year, uh, you know, Q2 Q3 of last year, you know, e-commerce penetration went to 40% in the United States, that is just incredible. So that focus on e-commerce, has been an interesting one, but I think now that people are at home, they’re cooking more.

For whatever reason, there has been an increased attention placed on health. And that’s not just a hope. I think that’s backed up that is backed by backed up by the data. So in general, I think that the market trends driven by COVID, have, have improved the outlook of vertical farms, and I can get into more detail if you like, obviously terrible as COVID is I think there have been some positive outcomes, and one of them I hope being that when you reduce the number of co-morbidities you have, you reduce the likelihood of your mortality due to COVID-19. 

And if you eat well, and you maintain a healthy diet, and healthy activity, you dramatically reduce your likelihood of becoming sick and, 

and, uh, dying from COVID-19.

[00:23:34] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. We’ve actually had a few guests come on to talk about avoiding processed foods and eating the right kinds of foods for medicinal purposes. So it’s funny to see this kind of thread kind of reoccurring throughout the interviews. 

So when it comes to food loss and sustainability, what’s the biggest area related to your role you’re curious about and why? Or to put it in another way, what are some of the things you’re researching the most right now? 

[00:23:59] Sam Bertram: Food loss, food loss is, is a result of the supply chain, the consumer really doesn’t have much idea about the fact that 40% of food that’s produced in the United States goes to the dump. It doesn’t affect the consumer, the consumer isn’t necessarily paying that much of a premium for it. 

So it’s just a, it’s, it’s a bug in the system, but you know, it, it doesn’t materially affect the consumer and you know, it doesn’t necessarily materially affect the farmer. 

There is portions of the supply chain care, you know, we wish we could get more product out, but you know, supply and demand that might drop the price of the product. So, it’s like with vertical farming, I’ll give you an example. We use 99% less water, that sounds great but how many consumers are willing to put real dollars down, vote with their wallet and say, I will pay more money for a form of agriculture that uses far less water?

The answer is very few. So we need to be focused on the value propositions that consumers will pay for. Quality is a, is a very good example, shelf life is a very good example. 

So food loss, vertical farms will do wonders for food loss. Uh, when you can locate the facilities 20 miles away, as opposed to 2000, and you can with e-commerce, you can send more precise amounts to the consumer, so that shrinkage within the fridge decreases, I think will do wonders for food loss. 

In terms of sustainability, once again, and this I think is also another key misconception about vertical farms. We’re much better in a lot of ways, but we also use a lot of electricity, and making sure that we source that electricity responsibly is, is important to us.

But again, it’s just a trade off, it’s a set of choices and trade-offs, right? And with all of the phenomenal value propositions that, uh, vertical farming provides, on the use of water, use of zero use of pesticides, resource use in general, uh, having to use extra electricity is, is a short term pain but it is something that is going to be solved over time. 

So from a sustainability perspective, I think it’s quite obvious that it is more sustainable than the way that we currently farm, that doesn’t mean once again, that we are a, a panacea, there are still issues that we have to solve on the sustainability front, but certainly, uh, sustainability is front of mind.

[00:26:05] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. So on the back end of that, with your wide adoption of AI and advanced technology being integrated into the farming process. Is there a particular group or innovation within the industry that you’re excitedly keeping a watchful eye on? 

[00:26:20] Sam Bertram: Oh yeah, imagery and imagery analytics. That’s kind of like, you know, before we had imagery on a driverless car, it’s pretty hard to have a driverless car. Once you have imagery on it on a driverless car, it makes driving driverless cars easier, right? In an autonomous fashion.

Now Lidar of course, is a nuance to that, but I’ll intentionally Dodge that for the moment it’s really imagery is a big step forward. I see a couple of organisations kind of dipping their toe into imagery, a couple of the big ones talking about it. But you know, RGB imagery, red, green, blue imagery, three channel imagery with low resolution, will get you a little bit of information, it’ll let you understand is the plant dead or alive? How large is the leaf area index? 

These kinds of things can make estimations on the biomass and therefore yield. But once you start to get into hyperspectral range, if you’re familiar with NDVI indices, once you get into hyperspectral range and a high resolution range, you can understand so much more about this plant, the photosynthetic health of the plant, uh, the water concentrations within the plant, all these kinds of things.

And much, much more than we actually don’t know about we’ve barely scratch the surface. So, imagery is something that I’m keenly watching.

It will be a sustainable, competitive advantage of ours, I believe, because of the quality and the resolution of the imagery that we can acquire. So I’m keenly watching the imagery side of this side of the space. 

Of course, automation is a must, you simply just cannot have a vertical farm reach the economics that are required by the market that is not automated.

So of course, I keep my eye open for the ways that our quote / unquote competitors are solving these problems. Uh, but also what I’m really interested in is the market approach of vertical farms. The technology cultivation, tech automation tech is one thing, but how are these vertical funds approaching the market?

Are they going straight after the commodity product or the commodity price getting very low margins, raising huge amounts of money to build their own farms? Or are they going capital light? Are they selling products at a premium? 

Like basically all hardware companies have had to in the past to receive adoption and receive market share and then receive capital at a high valuation and then innovate to the point where you can get to those economics at a mass scale. Uh, so without ranting too much longer, that’s a, that’s what I keep my eye out for.

[00:28:36] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, I’m with you. I’m actually really excited about imagery and like you’re saying LIDAR, it’s crazy just some of the companies I’ve been talking to and just some of the leaps and bounds it’s made in such a short window of time as well. It’s insane, so that’s really cool.

[00:28:51] Sam Bertram: I mean, think about it mate, the germination rate of these seeds is really, really important. Taking a manual germination rate, it just takes so long and the data entry is either first or second step away from that it away.

Take an image, understand where there is green, understand how many holes you have in that board and then you can essentially calculate a germination rate with a single image and store that data. I mean, think about just there, the difference in the amount of labour that’s required and then you can take that very smart, uh, acutely educated human being and apply them to more complex problems.

So that’s just one example of where imagery can be massively helpful.

[00:29:27] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. So what’s one thing you wish you had known when you first began your career in vertical farming? 

[00:29:35] Sam Bertram: I already knew I was an idiot uh, so that has only been confirmed over and over again, um, let me think. There was some idealism in the beginning that I think was useful but, uh, in many ways was incorrect, for example, my, the idealism that the market will wake up and see the fact that a commodity product that’s been strip mined 2000 miles away just doesn’t compete with the quality of product that comes out of our farm.

What we have noticed is that, tasting is believing. So, just because you grow in an indoor vertical farm doesn’t mean you automatically have high quality plants, believe me, I know. So understanding that A) but then B) you really can grow a significantly better product inside of a vertical farm if you get it right.

And I think that there are, there is a segment of the poor population that is intended upon paying more for that quality product. Um, so that was one of the main ones, I think in general, you know, this was my first job. We started the company when I was 23 or 24. There’s a lot of idealism and naivety, I suppose, associated with starting a company at that age.

But as I said before, I think there are some uses to that naivety, especially in the beginning. Um, but it just, you know, uh, it’s just hard, it is hard, but that’s okay, that’s okay. And I think I knew that in the beginning, but you know, once you’ve run a four minute mile, I think you, you understand it differently than just hypothesizing.

[00:31:06] Mitchell Denton: It’s funny, when I ask this question to other guests, they seem to be in the same boat as you. They very much emphasise that it’s, it’s hard that it’s, it’s quite an uphill battle, but the mentality seems to be everything. 

You refer to your naivity being kind of a benefit. I feel like a lot of other guests almost feel defeated in the thought of trying to do it all over again. Like they generally don’t know if they would go through it all over again.

[00:31:34] Sam Bertram: I don’t, I don’t think I have the same answer because I have, I just, I almost grit my teeth with how much passion I have for this business and the people within it. And the, the change that I am sure will be affected. So this, I think this is something, this is part of why I know I’m an idiot, but I know it’s useful.

Uh, I am 100% sure that we are going to succeed, I’m 100% sure. Now what that allows you to be actually on the flip side is a pessimist in a way I am pessimistic because I know that the world and life are just going to be constantly throwing speed bumps at me. 

But because I understand those two things, it doesn’t matter the nature of the problem that comes across our plate, it’s just a speed bump. It’s the same thing in the end. 

And so, if we can approach the problems with that mindset, I think we can overcome them, uh, much faster and with better solutions. So, I have no idea where that came from or whether that came from one of your questions, but I think it’s important to state.

[00:32:32] Mitchell Denton: No, that’s fantastic. And I will be keenly watching from the sidelines because, uh, I, 100% agree. I think you guys are, um, destined for greatness. So that’s, that’s really cool. Well, unfortunately, Sam, we are coming to a close, but before we do, I just wanted to ask you, what is the number one takeaway you really want the listeners to absorb from this episode? 

[00:32:57] Sam Bertram: You will see vertical farms increasingly take over portions of agriculture as much like the electric car. Uh, and you will see, and I believe the timing is right and you will see adoption increased dramatically. The size of the market is so massive that it warrants large investments and big bets.

So that’s what I think we’ve seen. So keep your eye out, you will see vertical farming popping up more and more over time. That wasn’t necessarily, if I can give you two more, I will. 

The first one is, the number one route to good health is eating good food, 

period. Full stop. Sorry. Full stop. I became a citizen five weeks ago, so I got, I got to speak American now.

And the final one is that I often say when I’m talking to students, is. The only person who stands in your way is you. If you want to do anything that is within the bounds of physics and even slightly beyond it sometimes, the only person that stands in your way is you. 

So in other words, do what you love and do it hard and become the best at it, and nothing will stop you, are only speed bumps.

[00:34:10] Mitchell Denton: Only speed bumps. I like that. Very inspirational. 

[00:34:13] Sam Bertram: Thank you mate.

[00:34:14] Mitchell Denton: Well, that’s all for today’s episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Sam, for joining me today. 

[00:34:20] Sam Bertram: Tis my pleasure, sir.

[00:34:22] Mitchell Denton: If you’d like to know more about Sam and OnePointOne, check out the link in the description of this episode. 

Make sure to subscribe to the podcast that you never miss an episode, and don’t forget to leave a review and share with your friends. 

Until next time you’ve been listening to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, a PostHarvest podcast.

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