Crop One Holdings, the company behind US container farming group Freshbox Farms, has signed a $40 million joint venture with the catering arm of global airline Emirates to build what they say will be the world’s largest vertical farm.
The $40 million is majority debt-funded and split 60:40 between Crop One and Emirates Flight Catering.
Vertical farming produces crops in indoor farms using technology to enable pesticide-free, optimal growing conditions with digital and mechanical, rather than chemical or genetic, plant control. The farms can be located anywhere because temperature, humidity, light, water and plant nutrients are all provided in a controlled environment. Vertical farms typically grow plants in a soil-less growth medium using nutrient solutions.
Crop One will construct the farm in Dubai, United Arab Emirates to supply Emirates Flight Catering clients, including the Emirates airline but also the other 105 airlines and 25 airport lounges based at Dubai International Airport.
Crop One, which typically builds 320 square foot vertical farms in shipping containers or similar structures (although its largest is 43,000 square feet), will begin construction of a 130,000 square foot facility in Dubai in November. It expects to complete construction in November 2019, delivering the first produce to clients in December 2019.
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Its location will enable the quick delivery of fresh products within hours of harvest, helping to maintain the food’s nutritional value and reducing carbon emissions associated with transportation, according to a press release.
“As one of the worlds’ largest airline catering operations, Emirates Flight Catering constantly looks at innovation, and ways to improve our productivity, product and service quality,” said Saeed Mohammed, CEO of Emirates Flight Catering in a statement. “By investing to build and operate the world’s largest vertical farming facility, we secure our own supply chain of high quality and locally-sourced fresh vegetables, while significantly reducing our environmental footprint. We are pleased to partner with Crop One and together we look forward to delivering a best-in-class product and excellent value to our customers and stakeholders.”
Crop One says the facility will produce three US tons — 6,000 pounds or 2,700 kg — of herbicide- and pesticide-free leafy greens using 99% less water than outdoor fields. The joint venture will increase the company’s overall production levels to 5.3 tons per day by next fall, including three new US farms Crop One is launching by the end of this year. This will make Crop One the largest vertical farmer in the world, according to a press release.
Since 2016 FreshBox Farms has produced nine different leafy green retail products, serving 38 different supermarket and home delivery services in the Boston metropolitan area. It differentiates itself from other vertical farming groups by being equipment agnostic and integrating with third-party technologies. CEO Sonia Lo says it is “well beyond the technology experiment phase of most vertical farming,” pointing to the route to market many heavily funded vertical farming groups are taking.
“We are the only vertical farmer with a proven model at scale,” she wrote in a press release. “We have invested four years building our systems integration and development platform while establishing robust capital optimization. As a result, our capital efficiency is second to none, and this equips us with best mover advantages in breaking ground in locations where our innovation and environmental and food safety advantages are welcomed by cities, economies and consumers alike. This JV with Emirates Flight Catering also enables us to expand… internationally for the first time.”
Crop One has raised $16 million in funding from family offices to-date, last closing a $10 million Series A round in December 2017.
Image: Freshbox Farms from Facebook