LOCKHART, Texas (KXAN) — In the next few weeks, you may start seeing produce at the grocery store that’s been grown by robots in Lockhart.
A company called Iron Ox is finishing up construction on its 530,000 square-foot property that includes a greenhouse and production barn.
The company hopes to bring a new way of farming driven by artificial intelligence, in the historically agricultural city of Lockhart.
“We’re an indoor farming company that’s using technologies like robotics, AI and plant science to grow more sustainable, local, fresh produce,” said Brandon Alexander, Iron Ox’s CEO who grew up in Texas.
Alexander says Lockhart’s operations would be much bigger than what they’re already doing in California —their property can fit 10 Walmarts, he said.
But he said they will be using the same technology: Grover, the company’s bot.
“One of the key things that our technology does, it’s always monitoring the plants, and it’s reacting,” Alexander explains. “How is this plant doing? Can we tweak it? Maybe a little more nitrogen? Adjust the water acidity?”
The company says that attention to detail cuts down food waste dramatically, as well as water use by 90%.
Once the lettuce and other herbs are ready for harvest, Grover will pick up the 1,000-pound pods, carry them through a tunnel, and into the connecting barn, where the produce will be packaged for local grocery stores and restaurants and, eventually around Texas.
Alexander says customers will start seeing these leafy greens in stores by the end of the year and hopes to start growing strawberries and other products sometime next year.
He also says they decided to expand even before that due to the interest from businesses over the past year — securing incentives deals with the city of Lockhart on Nov. 16 for a second production location.
That includes up to $200,000 to expand wastewater and water lines to the site, and a five-year property tax rebate, said Lockhart’s economic development director, Mike Kamerlander.
Economic growth in Lockhart
“The number of economic development leads that we have done this year in 2021 is more than double what it was in 2020 — and 2020 was a record year for us,” Kamerlander says.
Kamerlander points to the city’s affordability, easy permitting process and proximity to Austin as reasons for increased development, and said he expects the projects will keep rolling in.
“We certainly think that’s going to continue as things like Tesla continue to ramp up and get going and everything is going to go around them,” he said.
Alexander says that means more mouths to feed — and he’s hoping that food will come from their facilities, instead of being imported from other states or countries.
“Less traveled distance, less chemicals and a better, fresher product to boot,” he said.
He says Iron Ox is also hiring everything from technicians to food scientists. As of publication, their website shows about a dozen openings in Austin and Lockhart, but Alexander said they won’t turn away qualified workers.