As land gets scarcer and pricier, planting indoors is gaining popularity not just with gardening enthusiasts, but also farmers. But can the industry thrive among rising costs?
Succulents, cactuses, monsteras and dozens of other plants have become staples of modern decoration. And though most of us get them just for looks, there’s evidence that indoor plants can boost your mental health and perhaps even improve the air quality around them (though the evidence on that one seems to be mixed).
With households and workplaces alike embracing the botanical trend in recent years, the global indoor plant industry reached US$18.8b in 2022 and is expected to be worth US$27.5b by 2030.
If you weren’t gifted with green fingers, you’re far from being alone: 37% of Americans reportedly kill one or two houseplants every year. The industry is addressing this with indoor gardening systems. Starting from a few dozen bucks up to several hundred dollars, these kits aim to make planting as fool-proof as can be. Some of them, like $SMG’s Miracle-Gro Twelve Indoor, come equipped with built-in lighting for plants to grow even in the darkest environments. Still budding, the smart indoor gardening kit market is now valued at roughly US$2b – just over a tenth of the houseplant market.
For a while, it seemed like the big bucks to be made with indoor plants lay in indoor farming, as estimates valued the industry at about US$40b in 2022. Vertical farming had been getting attention among venture capitalists, securing four out of five of the biggest funding raises done in AgTech in 2022. But in the past few months, some of the best-known companies in the sector – both in Europe and in the U.S. – filed for bankruptcy, raising questions around consistent profitability in vertical gardening.
One exception could be South Korea, where produce is normally so expensive that indoor farming could still represent an improvement despite its high costs. Chief among those costs is the energy bill, due to heavy reliance on artificial lighting. Even one of vertical farming’s biggest strengths can also be a serious threat: known for using fewer pesticides than other farming methods, indoor farms are at greater risk should any pest ever affect the harvest.
As smaller players leave the sector defeated, big corporations are stepping in with stronger funding and economies of scale. Retailing giants Kroger ($KR) and Walmart ($WMT) recently announced they’re expanding their footprints in vertical farming. The technologies available to these megacorps will probably never be accessible to the average gardening enthusiast – so don’t beat yourself up if your houseplant doesn’t flourish quite as you hoped.
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