The AgriFORCE Model
Managing the Difficulties of Agricultural Verticals with Modern Technology and Innovation
Our intellectual property combines a uniquely engineered facility design and automated growing system to provide a clear solution to the biggest problems plaguing most agricultural verticals. It delivers a clean, self-contained environment that maximizes natural sunlight and offers near ideal supplemental lighting. It also limits human intervention and – crucially – it was designed to provide superior quality control. It was also created to drastically reduce environmental impact, substantially decrease utility demands, as well as lower production costs, while still delivering daily harvests and a higher crop yield.
Plants grow most robustly and flavorfully in full natural sunlight. While it may seem counterintuitive to some, even the clearest of glass greenhouses inhibit the full light spectrum of the sun. However, new translucent and transparent membrane materials have emerged recently that enable the near-full-transmission of the sun’s light spectrum.
Unlike plastic or glass, these new transparent membranes can help crops achieve their full genetic (and flavor) potential. Natural light also warms the microclimate when necessary, dramatically reducing heating energy requirements. And at times when the sun is not cooperating, advances in supplemental grow lighting can extend the plants’ photoperiod – even beyond natural daylight hours – to maximize crop growth, quality, and time to harvest by up to 50% or better.
Greenhouses and vertical farms are also compromised by outdoor and human-introduced contamination. The new model relies on creating a sealed, cleanroom-like microclimate that keeps pests, pesticides and other pollutants outside.
Thanks to artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and similar advances, farmers can now benefit from highly automated growing systems that reduce human intervention and its associated costs. Finely tuned convective air circulation systems enable the microclimate to remain sealed and protected. Natural temperature regulation using sunlight and organic foam-based clouds can significantly reduce air-conditioning electricity requirements. Highly automated hydration, fertilization and lighting are all continuously optimized by machine learning.
This new AgriFORCE model, which has been designed with more than three years of research and development, is set to be put into large scale practice when the first of three new grow facilities complete construction on a 41-acre site in Coachella, California we expect to purchase in the coming year. This unique approach, which included contributions from lighting experts who had previously worked at NASA sending plants into space, was developed to significantly improve local food security in an environmentally friendly way. It uses the best aspects of current growing methods – outdoor, greenhouse and indoor – and replaces their shortcomings with better technology and processes.
Any solution whether in agriculture, industry, or consumer goods is typically the integration of various disparate parts which, in and of themselves, require independent skill sets and levels of expertise to bring together the desired outcome. Controlled environment agriculture solutions such as our patent pending proprietary facility and automated grow system are no different. Centered around four pillars: facility and lighting; automation and AI; nutrients and fertigation and micropropagation and genetics, our business not only has a tremendous opportunity to grow organically by virtue of its existing contracts and a future pipeline of similar contracts, but also through accretive acquisitions.
Plant Based Vaccines
Our technology and grow houses may be modified to work with various plant based pharmaceutical crops. One timely and potentially life-saving application is to cultivate plants which can be used to produce vaccines for various diseases, and most currently relevant, Covid-19.
As research groups are developing vaccines to fight the pandemic, they need a method to produce these vaccines quickly, in large amounts and at a low cost. One potential solution is to use plants as bio-factories. The genes to produce the vaccine can be transferred quickly and temporarily to plants that can be grown and harvested using simple and safe farming techniques.
Genetically engineered plants have been used for more than 30 years to provide a platform for manufacturing biopharmaceuticals. A diverse group of biopharmaceuticals, including antibodies, vaccines, growth factors, and cytokines have been produced in plant systems. A recombinant enzyme produced in carrot cells, for example, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for replacement therapy treatment of Gaucher’s disease, a genetic enzyme deficiency. The main advantages of plant-based platforms include their inability to replicate human pathogens. This requires less strident efforts to diminish the risk of contamination during the purification process. Plant-based platforms also require less sophisticated bioreactors for efficient synthesis of complex proteins.
Plant-based vaccines are gradually becoming a reality, although progress has been slower than expected. Slow progress is particularly true for the development of oral vaccines, with the main drawbacks being a poor characterization of antigen stability, bioavailability and reproducibility.
Injectable vaccines could be produced by using transient expression systems, which offer the highest protein yields and are already adopted at the industrial level to produce virus-like particle (VLPs) vaccines and other biopharmaceuticals under GMPC-processes.
Stably transformed plants are another option, but this approach requires more time for the development of antigen-producing lines. Nonetheless, this approach offers the possibility of developing oral vaccines in which the plant cell could act as the antigen delivery agent. This is the most attractive approach in terms of cost, easy delivery and neutralizing the pathogen before it can cause infection.
One of the significant challenges of plant-based pharmaceuticals including vaccines is the segregation of food and feed crops used as production hosts. This is particularly important for where there is a risk of admixture with commodities intended for food and feed. Therefore, it is not just the crop itself but the way in which it interacts with surrounding crops. Preventing the genetic mixing as a result of cross pollination, in large part can only be managed through the careful breeding, cloning and an enclosed facility. Although traditional greenhouses or indoor facilities could notionally provide some form of controlled environment, most do not meet Good Manufacturing Practices standards or are not designed to allow for the plant to achieve its full genetic potential/expression. Good Manufacturing Practices standards is a component of quality assurance that ensures that a pharmaceutical product or vaccine is manufactured to a quality appropriate for its intended use on a consistent basis. This means that the manufacturing process is completely defined, both in terms of materials and procedures. Appropriate certified facilities and equipment must be available, processes and analytical methods must be validated, and staff must be adequately trained.
In the case of terrestrial plants that are used to produce pharmaceuticals and vaccines, there are natural variations and inconsistencies in growth, soil and weather conditions that limit suitability. Furthermore, the location of crop production would have to be outside of the traditional food belt areas, which are typically the best conditions for growing crops, in order to avoid cross pollination and the contamination of food and feed crops. The production of crops (plant biomass) in a controlled environment in which conditions are optimized in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices standards, from the genetic origination of material through to automated growing offers the best way to allow for plant-based vaccine and pharmaceutical feed stock to be grown. Additionally, a self-contained facility that allows the plant biomass to be extracted and clarified on an as produced biomass daily basis offers tremendous scaling benefits, which are often cited as the reason for controlled environment solutions to be pursued. This allows the Company to pursue relationships with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies who are currently pursuing plant based COVID vaccines and other plant-based pharmaceuticals and imbed downstream processing specific to their needs within the Company’s facility design. This will allow for more efficient logistics and movement of product to the plant made pharmaceutical facility reducing some costs.
Based upon an initial analysis of notable plants (Artemisia annua, Cocculus hirsutus, Nicotiana benthamiana, Solanum nigrum, etc.) currently used in research, the Company has determined that the AgriFORCE Operations, Facilities, Systems, and Environment (four of the five factors in COFSE, our Crops, Ops, Facilities, Systems, Environment optimization strategy) can easily and readily optimize cultivation of the plants analyzed, as well as a wide range of other similar medicinal plants.
Plants identified by pharma companies in the future, that have other COSFE challenges, can certainly be cultivated and optimized in AgriFORCE facilities with minimal to moderate change in any of the factors, most likely the Systems (Automated Grow Systems) and achievable in a matter of months at nominal cost.
Although the design changes are seemingly quite straight forward, the Company does note that certain conditions or requirements may cause more extensive work and hence an impact on time and cost. Likewise, the integration of extraction and clarification may require specialized processes outside of the scope of what the Company is familiar with but would reasonably assume that its biotech and pharmaceutical customers would provide such expertise. It is the Company’s belief that most of the impact on time and budget would not be considered material except that the urgency of the race to provide a vaccine for COVID could re-define materiality in the context of time.
AgriFORCE facilities development, fabrication, and construction is based upon “modular components and systems” in place and ready, prefabricated and shipped to site for most efficient assembly and commissioning. Due to the Company’s foundational development strategy, these facilities can be strategically located and multiplied virtually anywhere in the US and Canada, ideally between 33°N -50°N latitudes. Therefore, the location, count, and schedule to deliver operational facilities is a matter of capital and time.