Inside job: Local organizations discuss potential benefits of indoor farming for Central Washington

For the Basin Business Journal | April 30, 2024 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE – Representatives of both the Port of Othello and the Adams County Development Council attended the 11th Annual Indoor Ag-Con March 11-12 at Las Vegas’s Caesars Forum, a trade show for the indoor and vertical farming industry.

ACDC Executive Director Kyle Niehenke said he and Port Executive Director Chris Faix and Port Commissioner Homer Montemayor looked into the conference in response to Pasco’s incoming indoor agriculture Local Bounti location.

“I’ve seen greenhouses but they’re to keep flowers fresh,” Niehenke said. “This is like full cycle of growing, start to finish, from seed to consumption, that’s what’s going on down in Pasco.”

Niehenke said he thought indoor farming would be a good fit for Adams County and other areas in Central Washington. 

“We already have good outdoor ag, but … indoor ag (is good) for maybe your non-traditional (crops) that we don’t grow up here, like your leafy greens,” Niehenke said. “Some of the stuff that is actually traditionally grown in like California or Arizona because of their weather, we have good weather but they have longer seasons, so now you can do more cycles in an indoor controlled environment.”

The less extreme climate of Central Washington compared to other areas, particularly farther north, would make indoor agriculture even easier to implement and more cost-effective. 

“I think people get confused because greenhouses are not only to keep things warm, they’re to keep things temperate,” he said. “So for us, even though we have winters, we don’t have harsh winter, so they’re only spending money on heating for a shorter amount of time.”

Grant and Adams County’s infrastructure also complements indoor farming. 

“Here we have a ton of water, we have a ton of electricity and we have a ton of land,” Niehenke said.

Faix said land is also affordable.

“We were surprised talking to a lot of the places over there when we would tell them what our land price was … that’s less than half of what you’re paying in other places,” he said.

Niehenke said both Grant and Adams Counties offer low land prices and power costs compared to expenses in other areas, even within Eastern Washington, such as the Spokane area.

Northern Grant County might work, Niehenke said, but isn’t as suited for bringing indoor farming in.

“You go up to Coulee City and (places) like that, they just haven’t built anything out like this,” he said. “This indoor ag complements our irrigated farm ground well because there’s already a concentration of workforce; there’s a concentration of population; a concentration of utilities and over-the-road infrastructure and trucking.”

Both said there are advantages to indoor agriculture projects. 

“You have a pretty small footprint for a pretty good yield, which is why indoor ag has taken off,” Niehenke said. 

Faix said the indoor farming would supplement an already decent growing season.

“You have March to October-ish or whatever, but if you could work year-round and keep some of these kids employed,” Faix said. “(Montemayor) and I always talk about keeping kids employed and the younger generation coming up.”

Other benefits include lower fuel costs. 

“We can lessen our food dependence on trucking and logistics from a thousand miles away, and then Adams County and Grant County already grow so many crop varietals,” he said.

Growing year-round is the biggest benefit of the new system.

“The price of everything goes up in the wintertime,” Faix said. “A lot of that is trucking and costs like that and different things, but if you could grow it here year round and have it local, it’s still local. It would still be close by.”

Niehenke also commented on the benefits for workers.

“They’re working in a controlled environment, less labor intensive, it’s not 110 degrees inside. It’s going to be humid in there, but it’s a controlled environment year-round,” he said. “When we were talking some of those guys (at the conference), the labor force enjoys the job. A lot of things are kind of like at hip level and above because it’s elevated, so there’s less of hands and knees and bending over.”

Montemayor said other states and countries are ahead of Washington in implementing indoor agriculture, and he wants to see it grow in the Columbia Basin.

Faix said the greenhouse structures are also adaptable.

“It definitely sounds like it’s, within a reason, one size fits all; you change your temperature conditions and humidity around your watering schedule,” he said.

The structures also aren’t as prone to sometimes harsh weather in the region.

“People don’t talk about that enough, but Eastern Washington, our exposure to natural disasters is nearly zero,” Niehenke said. “We don’t have earthquakes, we don’t have tornadoes, and we barely have hailstorms.”

There don’t seem to be many challenges outside of the initial costs of building a greenhouse.

“I think the biggest hangup, when we talked to these guys, is that some of these commodities don’t store well, so you have to have a contract, you have to have a buyer,” he said. 

Overall, Niehenke, Faix and Montemayor all said the conference was a worthwhile investment, with many parties interested in locating to Central Washington given the right opportunity. 

“If we found someone that could carry a contract to do this stuff, if you wanted to go start a greenhouse and you had a buyer for it, your logistics company is already here, your land is available, your workforce is here, you’re electricity is cheap, your water is plentiful,” Niehenke said. “Yeah, there’s going to be these other startup issues, but you’re not reinventing the wheel in Adams or Grant County.”

Overall, both Niehenke, Faix and Montemayor all said the conference was a worthwhile investment, with many parties interested in locating to Central Washington given the right opportunity. 

Niehenke said indoor farming could significantly help food production in the long run.

“Food scarcity is a very real subject … There’s a lot of the country that relies on everything that we produce here and I want to lean into that more. I want to produce more of it,” Niehenke said. “It checks all the boxes on the surface.”

Gabriel Davis may be reached at

    Vertical farms, pictured, are another form of indoor agriculture that utilize structures and automated systems to grow food year-round, rather than seasonally.