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In order to prove they have a winning formula of sustainability + quality, NJ-based AgTech pioneer AeroFarms is partnering for high-end market access and niche branding.
At Davos on the Delta earlier this year, iSelect’s annual AgTech conference held in Memphis, speaker after speaker emphasized how technology is facilitating a synthesis of needs of the grower (yield and profit) and of the consumer (variety and quality). AeroFarms methods address both the yield and the quality part of that equation, but the key to their success may lie ultimately in the taste buds of the consumers.
While hardly a startup anymore, with 9 farms operating globally and over $100 million raised in financing since their founding in 2004, AeroFarms is a trailblazing indoor vertical farming company based in New Jersey that offers some powerful lessons on the importance of partnership and consumer outreach for AgTech startups.
EQ had the chance to speak to Co-Founder and CMO, Marc Oshima, by phone during the conference about the company’s vision for the future. Marc detailed how his company is combining indoor-farming with big data analytics and other tools to grow foods at a much higher efficiency.
A Controlled Environment For A Better Product
Instead of waiting for Mother Nature to do the work (while also risking exposure to pests and the elements), AeroFarms nurtures produce actively in a controlled, protected environment. Because AeroFarms’ production does not rely on exposure to sunlight and particular soil, produce can be grown at a largely accelerated rate.
Additionally, AeroFarms is leveraging technological advancements to boost yield further. In particular, its partnership with Dell allows the company to access sophisticated big data analytics and thus to continually optimize the output of its farms.
— EQ (@eqstl) May 16, 2018
Thanks to Dell, AeroFarms growers have refined their machine learning and vision, allowing them to effectively make real-time adjustments to the crops being produced. According to Oshima, the team-up allows AeroFarms to “harvest the data, not just the plants.”
AeroFarms facilities prove 390x more productive than traditional farming methods, all without the use of any pesticides and 95% less water than outdoor farms. Where other agriculture producers rely on roughly 3 harvests per year, AeroFarms achieves 30.
— EQ (@eqstl) May 16, 2018
Optimizing Indoor Farming
Thanks to AeroFarms’ remarkable productivity gains, the company has attracted global attention and investment from investors in Dubai and Hong Kong among many others. US farmers are becoming less and less competitive globally in markets for commodity crops like soy and corn. Instead many leading analysts believe US farmers should gain an advantage by growing niche, specialized, high-quality crops unavailable elsewhere.
Powered by its partnership with Dell, AeroFarms collects mountains of operations data, allowing it to optimize its approach continually. The company possesses both the crop volume and readily available data to cater to consumer needs on a grand scale, specifically via what the company calls “lifestyle greens”.
The firm has established the viability of a de-commoditized approach to indoor farming, while also acting as a proving ground for the indoor technologies that could lead to more sustainable farming anywhere in the world. A key theme at the Davos conference was the need for farmers to grow specialty or even personalized crops to increase profits and succeed in a globally competitive marketplace. AeroFarms is setting out to prove this principle works for indoor farming as well.
Partnerships to Please The Palate
Customer feedback suggests that AeroFarms’ unique approach is working. Oshima commented that his customers say that their “palates have been woken up again.” Celebrity chef David Chang loves AeroFarms’ greens to the point of investing in the company and joining its board of advisors along with Swedish furniture giant Ikea, closing out a $40 million Series D round in November of last year.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson — the youngest chef to have received a 3-star rating from the The New York Times — has adopted AeroFarms as the primary provider of greens for his Newark, NJ restaurant, Marcs B&P.
AeroFarms has already proven the effectiveness of combining a variety of different technologies and approaches in agriculture, and of seeking high-level partnerships like theirs with Dell. Oshima sees more alliances like this powering his company’s future, stating that the AeroFarms team came to Davos so as to “bring forces together” to secure change for good in agriculture.