Faced with a world population that continues to increase, vertical farming appears as a solution to feed it. With a Farming-as-a-Service (FaaS) approach , the French start-up Jungle wants to become the European spearhead of the sector. The company is included in the Agri20 index, launched last year by the government.
Last year, the government announced the launch of the French Tech Agri20 , a variation of the Next 40 and French Tech 120 indices intended to support 20 promising start-ups offering breakthrough innovations to meet the main food and agricultural challenges of the coming decades. . Among the winners of the first promotion unveiled in the summer of 2022, we find Jungle, a young shoot specializing in vertical farming.
The project started in 2015 when Gilles Dreyfus, a former private banker who spent ten years in finance, came across an article in the Financial Times devoted to the food crisis and the challenges to feed the planet by 2050. “It was particularly a question of the aberration of food transport. And at the end of the article, there were three lines on vertical agriculture, presented as a solution, an answer, a promise in the face of this problem. I I had a shock and I went to meet the pioneers and experts of vertical farming in the United States” , explains Gilles Dreyfus, who founded Jungle in March 2016 with Nicolas Seguy.
100 parameters to recreate a natural environment indoors
During his journey, which took him to Texas but also to Japan, “the commercial cradle of vertical farming” , he made astonishing discoveries. “The horticultural LEDs that we use in a controlled environment to reproduce photosynthesis are the fruit of 40 years of research by NASA, which wanted to grow plants in the International Space Station“, he confides by explanation . ‘anecdote. From these discoveries, he began to design vertical farms based on hydroponics in a controlled environment. “We introduce all the external natural parameters inside“, summarizes Gilles Dreyfus. In total, a hundred parameters are considered (light, temperature, humidity, air circulation, wind simulation, nutrients, water, etc.) in software and constantly analyzed to ensure that the plants develop optimally.
In addition to sensors and thermal cameras to collect information about crops, Jungle relies on an artificial intelligence module to study the behavior of crops in real-time to make improvements for future crops, particularly by correcting system failures. This data then feeds the software, which ensures the implementation of a controlled and predictive environment to automate crop management.
Ten vertical farms by 2027
Starting from the observation that “the timing of investment funds and that of taking market share in mass distribution and selling plants is not in agreement” , the company wants to develop a Farming-as- a-Service (FaaS) to provide turnkey vertical farms to players in the agri-food industry with the service intended to operate them (maintenance, licensed software, training of employees to manage these farms, R&D, etc.) with long-term contracts (9 to 15 years). In this way, manufacturers can “secure their supply” , assuring Gilles Dreyfus.
To date, Jungle has a vertical farm of 4000 m² which contains six vertical towers allowing the growth of approximately 160 tons of aromatic plants and herbs per year, not only for large distribution companies but also for those which evolve. in the perfumery and cosmetics sectors. The tricolour start-up has notably joined forces with the Swedish company Firmenish to produce lily of the valley extract, a plant that is difficult to cultivate. “We produce between 45 and 55 kilos of biomass per square meter per year. We know that we can go to 80, 100, or even more on certain varieties, ” indicates Jungle’s co-founder. The young shoot plans to create a dozen vertical farms by 2027.
Scaling up will be a major challenge for the company, as French agtech players, such as Agricool, have broken their teeth in this demanding field. “It’s a new industry that’s only been around for ten years. It’s based on agronomy, tech, new businesses and financial modelling, and it isn’t easy to get these four poles to dance together. We’re trying to reproduce what is happening outside, so you must be very humble, ” Gilles Dreyfus explains. And to add: “The energy crisis will be extremely interesting to see who will survive. The market is in full consolidation.”