Cargill announced a partnership with Aerofarms with an ambitious plan to reinvent the way cocoa could be produced in future. 

Who is Aerofarms?

The company’s tagline is simply ‘Agriculture, Elevated’, which brilliantly describes their business in two words.

They are a B Corporation certified company with a stated purpose

To grow the best plants possible for the betterment of humanity

Aerofarms mission statement

B Corp certification guarantees that a business is measuring its environmental and social impact, and commit to transparency by publishing their score online.

Aerofarms operates by applying a very structured and methodical approach to agriculture. Less green fingers and more like computer nerds let loose in a greenhouse.  Reading through their mission statement was fascinating. 

Since 2004, the company has been looking at ways to reinvent agriculture through the cross-functional disciplines of A.I, computer science and agriculture. In 2019, the company raised a $100m investment from Patient capital, with furniture and famous meatball company, IKEA acting as a lead investor in this hot investment space.

Aerofarms summarise their vision as follows:

  • Understand plant biology to be great farmers and solve broader problems in agriculture
  • Serve communities by leading with brand and providing access to high-quality, consistent, and safe products
  • Protect the environment for future generations, growing more while using less

I can understand Cargill’s enthusiasm to partner with them. The company is facing headwinds from a number of directions over their cocoa supply. Chocolate companies like Cargill have recently had a contentious relationship with West African nations where they source the bulk of their cocoa. That issue and reputational challenges over allegations of poor supply chain transparency and slave labour must have led to questions on how to mitigate those issues 

As the African nations are mobilising collective action to put pressure on the chocolate companies to pay more for cocoa, we have to believe the companies themselves are looking for new ways to mitigate the threat of losing some control over their main source of cocoa.

The companies Press Release is below:

MINNEAPOLIS and NEWARK, N.J. (August 13, 2021) — As part of ongoing efforts to build a more resilient and sustainable cocoa sector, Cargill has entered a multi-year research agreement with vertical farming pioneer and leader AeroFarms aimed at improving cocoa bean yields and developing more climate-resilient farming practices.

“Environmental challenges and growing demand for cocoa products are placing increased pressure on the global cocoa supply chain,” said Niels Boetje, managing director Cargill Cocoa Europe. “Through partnerships with research institutes, universities and innovative companies like AeroFarms, we are collaborating across sectors in bold experiments to bring greater productivity and resiliency to traditional cocoa farming operations. We look forward to sharing our findings with the farmer cooperatives in our cocoa supply chain to help ensure a thriving cocoa sector for generations to come.”

This latest research collaboration brings together AeroFarms’ expertise in controlled environment agriculture, with Cargill’s extensive knowledge of cocoa agronomy and production practices. Together, the two organizations will experiment with different indoor growing technologies including aeroponics and hydroponics, light, carbon dioxide, irrigation, nutrition, plant space and pruning to identify the optimal conditions for cocoa tree growth.

These findings will yield new insights, targeting factors such as faster tree growth and greater yields, accelerated development of varieties with enhanced pest and disease resistance, and unlocking the cocoa bean’s full flavor and color potential. These outcomes will help secure the future supply of cocoa beans in the face of climate change.

“AeroFarms shares a similar vision as Cargill to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way,” said David Rosenberg, Co-Founder & CEO of AeroFarms.  “We have grown over 550 different crops, and we are excited to be working on another project with them, this time focused on cocoa. At AeroFarms we think of our proprietary technology as a platform to optimize plant biology, genetics, mechanical systems, operational systems, environmental systems and digital controls, data capture and analytics. Genetics and speed breeding is one of the verticals where we focus. Applying our platform to optimize cocoa growing is one way that AeroFarms can have a broader positive impact on the world.”

Initial exploratory work has already begun at AeroFarms global headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, and will soon expand to the company’s state-of-the-art AeroFarms AgX Research & Development indoor vertical farm in Abu Dhabi, UAE, which is slated to open in early 2022.

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