Incentive agreement brings robotic farm to Lockhart
By Wesley Gardner
The Lockhart City Council on Thursday approved a performance agreement between the Lockhart Economic Development Corporation and robotic farming company Iron Ox that will bring a new facility, jobs and tax revenue to Lockhart.
Since 2015, Iron Ox has a been a leader in robotics and AI-enabled farming, developing hybrid robotic greenhouses that support a range of produce offerings.
According to the agreement, Iron Ox plans to break ground on the new facility this December, eventually creating at least 28 new jobs in Lockhart. The 100,000 square-foot facility will be located on approximately 25 acres of land on Blackjack Street across from Lockhart Industrial Park 1.
The agreement stipulates that Iron Ox will be required to make an initial capital investment of $10 million to purchase the property, construct the new facility and create or relocate jobs to Lockhart. In return, Iron Ox will receive a maximum $25,000 grant from the city to help pay for the construction of a sidewalk along Blackjack Street.
Lockhart mayor Lew White touted the initiative.
“The addition of Iron Ox to the Lockhart business community represents synergy between our city’s storied history in agriculture and our growing technology sector,” said White. “The food and beverage processing industry is one of four business sectors Lockhart has targeted in its five-year economic growth plan because our city’s unique advantages align perfectly with the needs of companies like Iron Ox.
“As Lockhart continues to grow, Iron Ox and companies like it are essential to our economic vitality and future. We thank them for their investment and commitment to Lockhart.”
Brandon Alexander, Iron Ox CEO & Co-founder, noted the new venture was the first time the company has set up shop in Texas.
“We’re proud to make Lockhart our next farm outside of California,” said Alexander. “Lockhart’s city government, as well as their planning and development staff, worked diligently with us throughout this process and made us feel right at home.
“In addition, the city’s central location within the Texas triangle and short drive from Austin, allows for strong distribution lanes of same day grown and harvested products throughout the entire state of Texas, making the city the ideal choice for our robotic greenhouse growing platform.”
According to Alexander, Texas currently receives most of produce from California and New Mexico, meaning it can often take a week to arrive on local grocery store shelves.
“What we want to do is set up greenhouse in Lockhart to provide fresher local produce,” said Alexander, “So instead of something that travelled probably 2,000 miles on average, something that was grown right here and we can harvest and deliver it in the same day.”
According to Iron Ox Communications Director Alexander, the company’s hydroponic growing system uses 90 percent less water over traditional farming, while growing 30 times the amount of crops per acre of land.
Iron Ox launched the world’s first autonomous farm in Oct. 2018.
In other business, councilmembers discussed the mayor’s declaration of a local disaster concerning precautions put into place to address COVID-19 but ultimately took action. White, however, did touch on requests for upcoming events.
“We continue to get requests for COVID-protected events, which we are cautiously approving,” said White. “Dickens is going to have a reverse parade this year where they will park their floats on the south and the west side of the square, and you will make a little snake path through the square and come back out.
“You’ll have an opportunity to drive by, talk to the people on the floats who are wearing masks and are distancing, take pictures and things like that, but there will be no vendors … We’re going to try and control the pedestrian traffic the best we can.”