Iron Ox plant to bring fresher foods to Texas￼
By Kyle Mooty
Iron Ox CEO Brandon Alexander said California has long been basically America’s salad bowl. With a new plant in Lockhart, Alexander believes that bowl can be pulled closer to the diner, at least in Texas.
Iron Ox welcomed various members of the press on April 21, with Alexander and others from the company detailing everything to the plant’s beginnings, the process of them growing, as well as the robotics used to move them throughout its plant, which will eventually total 535,000 square feet in Lockhart, or as Alexander said, “about five Walmarts.”
By comparison, Jen Capasso, Senior Director of Communications for Iron Ox, said the plant at headquarters for the company in San Carlos, Calif., is only 10,000 square feet.
“Everything is bigger in Texas,” Capasso said.
There are multiple goals for Iron Ox growing produce in Lockhart at his state-of-the-art greenhouses, Alexander said.
“I grew up in Texas in a pretty large farming family,” Alexander said. “Over the years, I saw the impact it has on our land and the entire country. By producing better food, I mean fresher. We’re not traveling the 2,000 miles on average that produce travels today.”
Alexander studied at the University of Texas. He called the company’s flagship greenhouse was now in Lockhart.
The Lockhart facility will eventually employee about 100 people. The plant is only partially built as the Block 2 greenhouse is currently in construction, with Block 3 and 4 to come. The plant will include processing, production, and robotics, and is already growing Texas Basil, Sweet Thai Basil, Kale, different types of lettuce, and will be adding strawberries soon as well as Cucumbers and other items.
“We all know that climate change is at the critical level right now,” Alexander said. “We are in that late-stage kind of crisis. California is literally sinking because of industrial agriculture’s overuse of our water. We are draining underground reservoirs to a point that we are not able to grow more and more food for the United States. We are having to import more from places like Mexico and Central America. About 70 percent of our freshwater is being used by agriculture today.
“At Iron Ox, our goal is to solve this. The issues are systemic; everything from how we plow our land to the tools that we use. What you’re going to see is our ground-up approach. We‘re growing better products for both people and the planet. Our custom greenhouses are designed to give plants the exact growing conditions they need.”
Dr. Paty Romero, head of plant science at Iron Ox, explained the company’s seeding program.
“Thanks to our engineers and the design of this amazing equipment, we’re studying everything that the plant needs; the light, the concentration of nutrients, the irrigation,” Romero said. “We can adjust the nutrients required. We are revolutionizing the way we are growing plants. We are collecting all of the data to we can optimize every recipe.”
Alexander added, “Everything is designed was to give the plants exactly what they need. We’re giving the exact amount of ingredients to thrive. Even the greenhouses were designed by us to optimize the plants’ growth.”
Lockhart, Alexander said, has been a perfect match as a partner.
“Lockhart has been an amazing partner,” he said. “We’re excited to call Lockhart home. Lockhart has welcomed us with open arms. We broke ground just one year ago. We have access to all of Texas.
“The whole point of this is to be able to grow closer to cities and towns, basically grow closer to people. Farming today is incredibly centralized, only growing in a few parts of the United States for fresh fruits and vegetables. With our design in our greenhouses, we can control the environment. We can grow from polar climates down to tropical climates and everything in between and set these up closer to towns.”
The 6×6 growing modules are moved wherever needed within the plant by the robots, or “Grover” as they are known. Even the acidity of the water fluctuates as needed.
“Basically, our robots are self-driving cars,” Alexander said. They can lift more than 1,000 pound and bring any modules in our farm for a tune-up, a check-up, and extra dosage for harvesting.
The food grown at Lockhart will stay in Texas as Capasso noted it would not be sustainable to ship far away. Iron Ox already has some local agreements with businesses to sell some of their produce.