AppHarvest’s first crop of beefsteak tomatoes will be hitting shelves this week. Tomatoes from the 60-acre controlled environment agriculture operation in Morehead, Kentucky, will debut on select grocery store shelves like Kroger, Publix, Walmart, Food City and Meijer. They will be co-branded with Sunset Grown in stores.
The flagship AppHarvest facility is expected to produce about 45 million pounds of tomatoes each year from about 720,000 beefsteak and vine tomato plants.
“We look forward to every American having the ability to access fresh, healthy, affordable fruits and vegetables,” said Jonathan Webb, founder and CEO.
The non-GMO, chemical pesticide-free crops were grown with 100% recycled rainwater and will be comparable in price to traditionally grown tomatoes, according to the company.
“Our world has a long way to go to rebuilding our food systems,” Webb said. “COVID has highlighted that in many ways but the good things is … the private sector can lead in many of these problems facing our world and we can have a good, tasty product that we can get to every consumer, but we have to use technology quickly to rebuild American farming and the global food system.”
Some of that technology includes machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and more data-driven agriculture. From industrial software to sensors and lighting and humidity controls, the operation is leveraging tech developments at the Kentucky operation.
“There are a lot of different technologies that are converging right now that will continue to evolve over the next decade,” Webb said.
The tech, in combination with the latest in integrated pest management and biological pest control, keeps the crops chemical pesticide-free.
“I like to call it integrated pest management 2.0, where we really are focused on using different types of artificial intelligence, the skills of workers and training them to spot pests and disease early,” said Jackie Roberts, chief sustainability officer.
The company is planning to list publicly after the closing of the combination of AppHarvest with Novus Capital Corporation and will trade on Nasdaq under the ticker APPH.
Board member Martha Stewart added that fresh produce could have a place in prepared foods like sauces and soups as well. “We need to be making our prepared foods with this kind of produce as well as serving this kind of fresh produce to the customer,” she said.
AppHarvest is also building a 60-acre facility outside of Richmond, Kentucky, and a 15-acre leafy greens operation in Berea, Kentucky. The company hopes to have a total of 12 farms in the central Appalachian region by the end of 2025.
Look for more coverage of AppHarvest in the March issue of Produce Grower magazine.