The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit organization established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, today announced a Seeding Solutions grant awarded to AeroFarms, a leading indoor vertical farming company with global headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. AeroFarms will match the Foundation’s grant for a total investment of nearly $2 million.
FFAR and AeroFarms were joined by food and agriculture research and industry leaders to celebrate the announcement of the new research project today at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Principal Investigator Roger Buelow, Chief Technology Officer at AeroFarms, will collaborate with Rutgers University and Cornell University scientists to take advantage of the precision that is possible in indoor vertical farming systems, where “stressors” from light to humidity to temperature can be controlled consistently and precisely to improve specialty crop characteristics such as taste and nutritional quality.
The project aims to improve crop production by defining the relationships between stressed plants, the phytochemicals they produce and the taste and texture of the specialty crops grown. The work will result in commercial production of improved leafy green varieties and yield science-based best practices for farming.
“With more than half the world living in urban areas, continuing to provide nutritious food to the burgeoning population must include envisioning our cities as places where abundant, nutritious foods can be grown and delivered locally,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. “We look forward to seeing this grant to AeroFarms catalyze innovation in vertical farming and plant production for the benefit of urban farmers and the communities they serve.”
Commented David Rosenberg, Co-Founder and CEO of AeroFarms: “We are honored to have been selected for this award and are glad that our goals line up with FFAR’s across the board. Our world-class team that has expertise in all aspects of horticulture, biology, engineering, automation, machine vision, machine learning, building systems, food safety, and nutrition is energized and ready to contribute to FFAR’s vision starting today. This FFAR grant is a huge endorsement for our company and recognition of our history and differentiated approach to be able to optimize for taste, texture, color, nutrition, and yield and help lead the industry forward.”
Said Senator Cory Booker: “AeroFarms continues to make New Jerseyans proud by redefining agriculture for the twenty-first century. With global headquarters in Newark, AeroFarms has developed groundbreaking technology to grow leafy greens using significantly less water and land than traditional growing practices. The company’s dedication to finding sustainable solutions to feed our growing global population will help solve some of our most pressing agricultural problems. I applaud them for their outstanding work and congratulate them on this award.”
While current plant breeding research focuses on breeding plants that are adapted to their environments, this new approach will investigate how to harness environmental conditions to improve the characteristics of plants grown indoors, where conditions like temperature and humidity can be maintained with precision. Information generated from this research will be published and presented at controlled environment agriculture industry conferences, including events tailored to startup companies and prospective entrepreneurs.
Stated Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association: “United Fresh is dedicated to championing new innovations and technologies to support our mission of growing produce consumption. Pioneering initiatives like the work by AeroFarms and FFAR will help lead the produce industry with a science-backed approach to understand how to grow great tasting and nutritionally dense products consistently all year. We believe that there is a need for even more public/private partnerships like this to spur breakthroughs. ”
This project is being supported by FFAR through its Seeding Solutions grant program, which calls for bold, innovative, and potentially transformative research proposals in the Foundation’s seven Challenge Areas. This grant is being funded within the Urban Food Systems Challenge Area, which aims to augment the capabilities of our current food system to feed urban populations by enhancing urban and peri-urban agriculture.