Interest is growing in indoor agriculture as consumers seek fresh food sources closer to home raised with fewer (or no) pesticides and herbicides and their concerns increase about the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on food safety and availability. Reflecting this growing interest is the second-annual Indoor Agriculture Conference being held this week in Las Vegas (last year’s inaugural event drew attendees from around the world and sold out). Organizers say that some “new tech” advances in farming to be introduced on Wednesday and Thursday include lighting, temperature controls and nutrient-transporting systems, along with related food-safety subjects.

Pam Marrone
One of the scheduled speakers is Pam Marrone, Ph.D., an entomologist who launched a company in Davis, CA, in 2006 to create and sell bio-pesticides, or biologically derived products, that kill pests and fertilize plants without the problems associated with chemical pesticides. “The big food-safety aspect is that they’re exempt from levels. You can spray right up until harvest and don’t have to worry about residues,” she told Food Safety News, adding, “We’re exempt from Codex rules as well.” Marrone has an extensive resume involving plant health and pest management. She founded the AgraQuest biotechnology company in 1995 and was its CEO, chairman and president until 2006. Before that, she founded Entotech Inc., a biopesticide subsidiary of Novo Nordisk, the Danish global healthcare company. She started out her career leading the Insect Biology group at Monsanto and developing projects by using natural products and plant biotechnology. Currently, Marrone Bio Innovations Inc. has three products on the market: Grandevo, a bioinsecticide; Regalia, a biofungicide, and Zequanox, which kills invasive mussels in rivers, lakes and water systems. “They are very biodegradable and generally very safe to mammals and other animals, and plant don’t develop resistance. You can spray in the morning and be back in the fields by the afternoon,” Marrone said. The company’s products boost a plant’s immune system and can get a “bump” in yields, particularly with soybeans and corn, she noted. “All of our products are listed organic as long as the active ingredients, microbes and such, are not modified and as long as we use inert products,” Marrone said. Her company has a group of 70 scientists working on research and development of new products. One is a biofumigant that kills foodborne pathogens and is “something we would partner out,” Marrone said. That product, currently without a formal name, is called “MBI 601” and has been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval. In the U.S., she noted, “We still produce strawberries using toxic fumigants; in Europe, they have started moving toward growing things indoors using strawberries.” Marrone indicated that her attendance at this week’s Indoor Ag Conference reflects the growing international interest in hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aeroponics (growing plants in an air or mist environment). The conference is being co-hosted by Newbean Capital and the Black Emerald Group and sponsored by Hort Americas.