Agribusiness giant Cargill is in partnership with AeroFarms, a vertical indoor farming company, with the aim of improving cocoa bean yields and developing more climate-resilient farming practices.
The multi-year collaboration will allow each company to draw on its areas of expertise, AeroFarms bringing its vision of agriculture in a controlled environment and Cargill sharing its knowledge on agronomy and cocoa production practices, companies said.
Together, Cargill and AeroFarms will experiment with indoor growing technologies such as aeroponics and hydroponics, as well as light, carbon dioxide, irrigation, nutrition, plant space and pruning to identify conditions optimal for the growth of cocoa trees. The aim is to obtain information that could lead to faster tree growth and better yields, accelerate the development of varieties with better resistance to pests and diseases, and improve the flavor and color of the bean. cocoa.
“As a company, we do not have all this knowledge”, said Niels Boetje, Managing Director of Cargill Cocoa Europe. “The demand for cocoa continues to grow and it is therefore important for us to find new ways to increase productivity. “
The cocoa and chocolate market is expected to exceed $ 67 billion by 2025, according to a 2020 Fortune Business Insights report. Additionally, consumers are placing more importance on sustainability efforts and traceability when it comes to determining which products to buy. In many cases, they are willing to pay a premium for these offers.
Chocolatiers such as Hershey, Mars, NestlÃ© and MondelÄz have attempted to make internal changes to address the environmental and economic challenges associated with cocoa production.
In 2018, Hershey announced a $ 500 million investment in cocoa sustainability strategies in Ghana and CÃ´te d’Ivoire. And Mars, which is committed to a 100% sustainable supply chain, has partnered with agricultural analysis company Nature Source Improved Plants to accelerate the development of new varieties of cocoa with higher yields, better disease resistance and superior quality.
Chocolate ingredient supplier Barry Callebaut is committed to eradicating child labor from its supply chain; lift half a million cocoa farmers out of poverty; become positive for carbon and the forest; and provide 100% sustainable ingredients by 2025. And Olam announced last year that it achieved 100% traceability for the cocoa it sources through new technology.
David Rosenberg, co-founder and CEO of AeroFarms, said that although this will be her company’s first foray into trees, she has worked with over 550 different crops that she can use to better understand. his work with cocoa. He said the advantage of vertical farming is that it removes the uncontrolled variables that can appear when a crop is grown outdoors or in a greenhouse, allowing researchers to have more control over conditions in which the plant is cultivated and the possible result on its genetics. .
Rosenberg and Boetje declined to comment on the finances of the new deal or whether Cargill is investing in AeroFarms. The two companies are no strangers to each other, having previously worked together on another plant that has not been publicly announced.
Companies have started working with the cocoa tree at AeroFarms‘global headquarters in New Jersey, with plans to expand to company headquarters new indoor vertical farm in Abu Dhabi scheduled to open in 2022. Executives said it would take about 18 months collect information necessary to lead more detailed experiences. Boetje said companies may decide to further expand their partnership.
âWe are continually looking for new opportunities to work together,â he said.
AeroFarms was founded in 2004, and for much of its existence it was widely known for green vegetables like arugula, kale, and broccoli sold in stores. But he sees his impact on agriculture extending beyond store shelves to helping crops like cocoa to help them grow more efficiently while benefiting the producers who raise them.
âI didn’t start, I found the business to be just a green, leafy business,â Rosenberg said. “I founded it to really be a business … to really help transform or evolve agriculture. And what I realized is that our biggest contribution is probably understanding what makes grow plants. “
Cocoa production, the majority of which comes from CÃ´te d’Ivoire and Ghana in West Africa, has long been plagued by environmental concerns and allegations that companies depend on child labor but have not not done enough to eradicate it from their supply chains. NestlÃ© and Cargill were sued by six former child slaves who claimed the companies were complicit in contributing to slavery on cocoa plantations in CÃ´te d’Ivoire. The The United States Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit in June.
Boetje said Cargill, which bills itself as one of the largest suppliers of cocoa and chocolate, has pledged do more to create a more resilient and sustainable supply chain for these ingredients. “With this project, we really hope to bring this new perspective, new knowledge in order to keep this promise that we have,” he said.