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Winter tomatoes … from Maine?

February 27, 2012, 3:00 PM UTC
Fortune

Scientists worried about the stress put on farmland by a booming population see new promise in growing greenhouse vegetables hydroponically — the centuries-old practice of cultivating plants in nutrient-rich water instead of soil. Maine’s Backyard Farms, the largest producer in New England, delivers tomatoes to stores just hours after they are picked — even during the snows of February. The company, whose farm spans 42 acres, says it is profitable.

By the numbers

$544 Million: Revenue of the hydroponic farming industry in 2011. Sales have been growing 7.8% annually. Still, hydroponic vegetables account for less than 1% of the market.

26 pounds: The amount each hydroponic tomato plant produces. Backyard Farms’ facilities yield some 30 times more tomatoes per acre annually than traditional farming.

50 cents: How much more Backyard Farms’ tasty tomatoes cost per pound than traditional ones. High-efficiency LED lighting may some- day help lower energy costs and thus prices.

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Sources: Backyard Farms, IBISWorld Research, The Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at Cornell University, Perishables Group

This article is from the February 27, 2012 issue of Fortune.