One of the more obvious effect of the global climate change is the weather patterns. Scientific weather data has shown that global warming has produced more erratic rainfall, longer droughts, extreme temperatures, more natural disasters like hurricanes, and unpredictable weather conditions. These threaten the agriculture industry, specifically the food supply chains. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed this vulnerability in the form of empty stocks and shelves at grocery stores and supermarkets. Many countries and companies, especially in the agri-food (commercial production of food by farming) industry like AeroFarms, have committed to finding green and sustainable solutions to farming.
AeroFarms is a US-based vertical farm company that uses its patented aeroponic growing system, which is to grow plants in a mist environment without soil, to increase growing efficiency and sustainability. AeroFarms can grow greens like arugula and kale without pesticides and using 95% less water than traditional farming methods.
Recently, AeroFarms has partnered with Cargill, an agricultural commodities conglomerate, to grow another crop that is in high consumer demand: cocoa, also known as chocolate. Approximately 70% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in just four West African countries, with the rest being grown in Southeast Asia and the Americas. However, there are numerous challenges to growing cocoa such as deforestation and climate change. The rise in temperatures is causing severe droughts, which are catastrophic for the cocoa trees, attributing to 30% of cocoa crops lost to disease per year, but also the livelihoods of more than 6.5 million cocoa farmers around the world. Chocolate is high in consumer demand, with the market projected to surpass $67 billion by 2025, so Cargill and AeroFarms have joined forces using Cargill’s knowledge of cocoa production and AeroFarm’s agronomy to grow cocoa trees in indoor controlled environments. The research will incorporate plant biology, horticulture techniques, data analytics, automation and more to produce higher cocoa yields and a more resilient production system.
The major challenge for AeroFarms will be figuring out how to cultivate a tree crop indoors. The company has to identify all the factors for optimal cocoa growth such as light, water, nutrients, and more. The goal is to lead faster tree growth with greater yields that is best and disease resistant. AeroFarms have begun researching and experimenting in their facilities in New Jersey, and plan to expand their R&D in Abu Dhabi, UAE, which is scheduled to open in early 2022. These efforts will not only unlock new potential colors and flavors of cocoa, provide a sustainable and resilient supply chain, but also can give insight to grow new crops and trees indoors.