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AppHarvest’s CEO says US drought conditions are a national security concern. Here’s why policymakers are looking to his company for answers.

  • Jonathan Webb, CEO of AppHarvest, believes water scarcity is a growing national security issue.
  • The government will topple without food and fresh water, said Webb, who has met with US Senators.
  • Policymakers are looking at AppHarvest’s water technology as a way to address water scarcity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jonathan Webb, CEO of AppHarvest, believes water scarcity is a growing national security concern as a heatwave continues to wreak havoc on the west coast. 

“We are at a very, very stark moment in the US and it’s not going to get any better,” Webb tells Insider in an exclusive interview.

Over the weekend, temperatures in Death Valley, California reached 130 degrees, one of the highest ever recorded on earth. The US also just recorded the hottest June on record, according to the NOAA.

Webb believes the US has taken water “for granted” and as drought conditions get more extreme, policymakers will have to figure out a solution for the dwindling water supply, or else the government will be “toppled.” Now policymakers are looking at AppHarvest, an indoor farming company that uses recycled rainwater technology, as a possible solution to grow more food with less water.

Due to his expertise and connections in Washington DC, Webb has been called upoin in recent weeks to meet with US Senators like Joe Manchin and Mitch McConnell, and former military generals to discuss national security around food security and water scarcity. 

During the meetings, the key question has been “what does the US do with our dwindling water resource in the west?” Webb said.

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Webb has plenty of experience working with government entities. Prior to founding AppHarvest, he worked with the Department of Defense on one of the largest solar projects in the southeastern US.

What makes AppHarvest unique, according to Webb, is the technology it has developed to run as a water company. He sees the technology as part of a way to tackle the growing water scarcity threat, especially on the west coast. 

“You can make an argument that AppHarvest, we’re a water company,” Webb said.

The company uses recycled rainwater to water the crops at its 60-acre indoor farm in Morehead, Kentucky. It collects the rainwater and then treats it with sand and UV light before using it. The process allows AppHarvest to use 90% less water and get 30 times more yield per acre than open-field agriculture in areas like California, Webb said. 

In order to bring meaningful change and to start using technology to build a stronger and more resilient food and water system in the US, Webb admits he’ll need help from peers in the agtech space along with leadership from the government.

Other agtech companies attempting to reinvent the food supply chain include Softbank-backed Plenty, and Bowery Farming, which recently raised $300 million to grow over a dozen varieties of leafy greens and herbs like butterhead, baby kale, and arugula.

In May, Bowery announced it opened Farm X, a facility for plant science and research development where the company established the industry’s first on-site breeding program, developing seeds specifically designed for indoor vertical farming. Webb says AppHarvest is also developing a similar seed program.

“There are private sector solutions. There are technologies. It’s a matter of leadership and prioritization from the government to private sector industry to investors who want to lead on these issues, but the technology is there,” he said. 

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