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AeroFarms: the US business growing up (and up) in the Gulf

People, Person, Man, farm Reuters/Mike Segar
AeroFarms claims its technology is up to 390 times more productive per sq m a year compared with traditional field farming
  • AeroFarms to open world’s largest R&D farm in Abu Dhabi
  • Teaming up with ADQ to improve resilience of fruit and veg in region
  • Vertical farm deals also signed with Qatar and Saudia Arabia

Agtech giant AeroFarms is seeding its indoor vertical farms all over the Gulf, launching significant ventures in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The US company is set to play a pivotal role in tackling problems of farming in the desert-climate region, which has historically imported around 90 percent of its food requirements.

AeroFarms claims its technology results in commercial farms achieving up to 390 times greater productivity per square metre each year compared with traditional field farming, while using 95 percent less water and zero pesticides.

Last month the company unveiled AeroFarms AgX, a 65,000-sq-ft research and development indoor farm in Abu Dhabi – and the world’s largest vertical farm for R&D.

The facility will work with UAE companies and universities on research and development projects to advance local sourcing of crops all year round.

Supported by the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, it is hiring more than 60 engineers, horticulturists and scientists for its labs.

People, Person, Man, farm, lettuceReuters/Mike Segar
A worker inspects baby red romaine lettuce growing beneath LED lamps thanks to a patented growing algorithm of controlled light, nutrients and temperature. Picture: Reuters/Mike Segar

The launch is the culmination of Abu Dhabi’s incentive programme, started in 2020, to attract agtech innovators and foster domestic food production. 

Last year AeroFarms signed its first collaboration agreement with Silal, the food security and diversity arm of Abu Dhabi’s holding company, ADQ.

The partnership is focusing on improving the seed quality of vegetable and fruit varieties to become more resilient to extreme growing conditions.

AeroFarms co-founder and CEO David Rosenberg said the partnerships reflected its “bigger commitment to help transform agriculture, accelerate innovating cycles and commercialise new products for the region.”

He added: “Our mission is to grow the best plants possible, help solve the greatest agriculture challenges and increase food resiliency.”

Other companies signing partnerships in Abu Dhabi include the Responsive Drip Irrigation from the US, India’s FreshToHome and local players Madar Farms and Pure Harvest Smart Farms.

AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg. Picture: AeroFarms

The negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on supply chains and the threat of desertification due to climate change were keys factors in Abu Dhabi addressing its food security challenges – as is the case for the other countries in the region, all heavily reliant on imports.

Last November AeroFarms announced further expansion in the Middle East with plans for a vertical farm in Qatar following a partnership deal with Qatar Free Zones Authority and Doha Venture Capital.

Rosenberg said the partners shared a “similar long-term vision for how agtech can positively disrupt and transform our food system in the face of increased macro pressures”.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund also recently signed a joint venture agreement with AeroFarms to operate vertical farms in the kingdom and beyond.

Majed AlAssaf, head of consumer goods and retail in the Mena investments division at PIF, said the agreement with AeroFarms would “increase regional reliance on locally produced, high-quality crops grown in a sustainable way.”

The first farm in Saudi is expected to have an annual production capacity of up to 1.1 million kg of agricultural crops.

AeroFarms has become a well-known brand selling its produce across the US. Picture: AeroFarms

Founded in Newark in 2004, AeroFarms has raised $256 million in funding to date. Having started selling its produce locally in north-east America, it now supplies all stores of the nationwide chain Whole Foods Market.

It has grown more than 550 varieties of fruit and vegetables in smart farms, which are connected by sensor networks to feed a library of plant data insights.

Rosenberg said: “Due to erosion and pollution, the world has lost a third of its farmland in the past 40 years. 

“Vertical farming’s controlled environment reduces the amount of land, water, energy – and the need for soil, fertilisers, and pesticides – required to grow food.”

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