“What we grow is often dictated by the problems in the existing supply chain. We’ve built our platform, the mechanical environment pulled together by the data science, to grow different plants,” says David Rosenberg, CEO and co-founder of AeroFarms.
In September 2021, AeroFarms announced its partnership with brewery Goose Island UK through which the vertical farming company will provide hydroponic hops to produce a session IPA. The Hail Hydro IPA will showcase sustainable brewing practices and will be one of few documented cases of indoor hydroponic hop production.
The non-fresh produce sector
AeroFarms’ production of hops is an example of vertical farming meeting the non-fresh produce sector. As David explains, this is all part of AeroFarms’ larger mission to solve problems faced in field-based agriculture such as climate change, environmental degradation, and high chemical use.
“Growing challenges in field-based production, shifting consumer preferences, etc. – these challenges are increasing and the vertical farming industry has the opportunity to solve these. At AeroFarms, we are applying our platform to problems,” says David.
Despite the possibilities in vertical farming, the sector still faces policy-related challenges in the United States as vertical farming is not implicit in agricultural policies. As David explains, this is where storytelling and education come into play.
Leafy greens first, now berries, hops, and beyond
Initially a producer of leafy greens, AeroFarms works diligently to expand its product offering. AeroFarms began producing berries three years ago and is continuously working on the economics and technicalities of indoor berry production, which differ significantly from those of leafy greens. For example, David explains how automation and pollination are two clear examples of challenges in strawberry production that require specific solutions. With the addition of crops and varieties to their portfolio, AeroFarms needs to methodically consider the particularities of the crop to ensure its commercial feasibility.
“The vertical farming industry should focus on where the economics work, which takes time and effort. We’ve been growing berries for over three years now, and it certainly takes time before commercializing. We need to solve big problems at scale and keep an eye on the future,” says David.
For these same reasons, David believes that as an industry, currently focusing on leafy greens is not in itself a bad thing, as the economic model has proven itself consistently – vertical farms can make money with leafy greens. However, continuously investing in research and development is how AeroFarms works to develop viable economic models for other crops to ensure a robust overall model.
AeroFarms is investing $100 million into research and development, aimed especially at advancing their technology and further expanding their crop portfolio, all through strategic industry partnerships.
“We very much believe in the future of this industry and what we’ve built. We want to accelerate that. We partner with a lot of people to advance our platform on the agronomic, operational, mechanical, and digital side,” explains David.