Crop One Holdings, the vertical farm operator behind the FreshBox Farms brand, and Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC), one of the world’s largest airline catering operators, have announced a $40 million joint venture agreement to build the world’s largest vertical farming facility in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The 130,000-square-foot controlled environment facility will produce three U.S. tons (6,000 pounds or 2,700 kg) of high-quality, herbicide and pesticide-free leafy greens, harvested daily, using 99 percent less water than outdoor fields, according to a press release. Its location will enable quick delivery of fresh products within hours of harvest, maintaining the food’s nutritional value and reducing carbon emissions associated with transportation, according to the release.
“Our proven business model has demonstrated profitable commercial production longer than any other major vertical farmer globally,” said Sonia Lo, CEO of Crop One Holdings. “We are farmers using the most sophisticated plant science and proven business efficiencies to provide market-leading consumer products every day. Our selection after a 10-month search by EKFC is a validation of our successful business model that uses patented technology and processes to optimize crop yields and facilitate hyper-growth.”
Construction of the UAE facility will begin in November 2018 and is expected to be completed in one year. First products will be delivered to Emirates Flight Catering’s customers, including 105 airlines and 25 airport lounges, in December 2019.
“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. “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.”
The joint venture will increase Crop One leafy green production to a total of 5.3 tons per day by next fall, including the three new U.S. farms Crop One is bringing online by the end of 2018. This will make Crop One the largest vertical farmer in the world, by an order of magnitude, according to the release. FreshBox Farms, since 2016, has produced nine different leafy green retail products, serving 38 different supermarket and home delivery services in the Boston metropolitan area.
“Crop One is the leading developer, operator and systems integrator, well beyond the technology experiment phase of most vertical farming,” Lo said. “We are the only vertical farmer with a proven model at scale, which enables us to produce the highest quality greens at a quarter of the costs of other major vertical farm operators and with 20 to 60 percent higher yields.
“We have invested 4 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 EKFC also enables us to expand the success of our FreshBox Farm brand internationally for the first time.”
The U.S. market for leafy greens is estimated at $8 billion annually and is growing at 10 percent each year. The market for additional crops including strawberries, herbs and other fruits is projected to be $50 billion annually. Half of the market serves retailers and the other half serves food service.
Vertical farming produces crops in indoor farms using technology to ensure, 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. Plants are grown in a soil-less growth medium using nutrient solutions that produce fast-growing, healthy plants.