US – Agricultural commodity trading giant Cargill is supporting the creation of a more sustainable cocoa sector by working with vertical farming pioneer AeroFarms to develop high yielding, climate-resilient cocoa varieties.  

According to a statement from Cargill, the research collaboration brings together AeroFarms’ expertise in controlled environment agriculture, with Cargill’s extensive knowledge of cocoa agronomy and production practices. 

The findings will yield new insights, targeting factors such as faster tree growth and greater yields. 

It will also feature the accelerated development of varieties with enhanced pest and disease resistance while also looking at unlocking the cocoa bean’s full flavor and color potential. 

“We have grown over 550 different crops, and we are excited to be working on another project with them, this time focused on cocoa,” says David Rosenberg, co-founder and CEO of AeroFarms.  

“Genetics and speed breeding is one of the verticals we focus on,” he adds.  

In coming up with the new varieties, the companies will experiment with different indoor growing technologies including aeroponics and hydroponics, light, carbon dioxide, irrigation, nutrition, plant space and pruning.  

“Applying our platform to optimize cocoa growing is one way that AeroFarms can have a broader positive impact on the world,” affirms Rosenberg.  

In addition to making cocoa production more efficient, the collaboration will also study the impact of climate change to help secure the future supply of cocoa beans. 

“Environmental challenges and growing demand for cocoa products are placing increased pressure on the global cocoa supply chain,” says Niels Boetje, managing director at Cargill Cocoa Europe.  

“Through partnerships with research institutes, universities, and innovative companies like AeroFarms, we are collaborating across sectors in experiments to bring greater productivity and resilience to traditional cocoa farming operations.”  

Cargill says it will share its findings with the farmer cooperatives in its cocoa supply chain to “help ensure a thriving cocoa sector for generations to come.” 

Initial exploratory work has already begun at AeroFarms global headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, US, 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. 

Meanwhile, AeroFarms is expanding into the Midwest region of the United States with a new 150,000-square-foot facility in the St Louis area. 

The project with the World Wildlife Fund and St. Louis Controlled Environment Agriculture Coalition is intended to demonstrate strategies to minimize the environmental footprint of indoor farming, said AeroFarms. 

The new site, which is the firm’s largest vertical farm to date, will “provide AeroFarms with rapid access to retail partners throughout the Midwest”. 

AeroFarms’ co-founder and CEO, David Rosenberg, said: “Customer demand for our award-winning greens has been accelerating across the United States, and this latest farm expansion will allow us to serve our retail partners and their customers throughout the Midwest”. 

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