Cargill targets major cocoa breakthrough with Aerofarms B-Corp vertical farming research

A major research project has been undertaken by Cargill with certified B Corporation vertical indoor farming business AeroFarms targeting key improvements for cocoa crops and delivering climate resilient farming techniques, reports Neill Barston.

The venture comes amid significant pressure on core supplies in West African nations of Ghana and Ivory Coast, which presently account for two thirds of the confectionery trade’s ingredient requirements.

Formed in 2004, AeroFarms, which has its headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, US, the business is ‘on a mission to grow the best plants possible for the betterment of humanity’ and has so far grown over 550 varieties through strategic industry partnerships with governments and major industrial corporations.

According to Cargill, AeroFarms methods enable local production to safely grow all year round, using vertical farming for elevated flavour. In addition, through its proprietary growing technology platform, which is hoped to secure the future of cocoa farming supplies.

“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 organisations 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 flavour and colour 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 optimise 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 optimise cocoa growing is one way that AeroFarms can have a broader positive impact on the world.”

As Cargill noted, initial exploratory work has already begun at AeroFarms US headquarters, and will expand to the company’s advanced AeroFarms AgX Research & Development indoor vertical farm in Abu Dhabi, UAE, due to open early next year.


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