‘Making Global Food Local’ | Q&A With Crop One CEO Craig Ratajczyk
Last week Crop One announced the opening of its second U.S. farm, located in Hazle Township, Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, it partnered with Emirates Flight Catering to open the world’s largest vertical farm in Dubai. The company is also raising the bar in the plant science arena with its Plants First ™ approach, other innovations and truly putting its marketing phrase “Making Global Food Local” in action. Indoor Ag-Con is excited to welcome Crop One CEO Craig Ratajczyk to our growing speaker roster for the upcoming February 2023 edition. And, we had the chance to catch up Craig in this month’s CEO Q&A to learn more about the company’s exciting developments and plans.
Earlier this year, Crop One and its partner Emirates Flight Catering celebrated the opening of ECO 1 (Emirates Crop One), the world’s largest vertical farm in Dubai. Can you share a little about your mission and goals for this incredible new facility?
Given the arid land and climate, the UAE currently imports over 85% of its fresh produce, with over 30,000 tons of leafy greens imported each year. One of our goals is for ECO 1 to increase food security and food sovereignty in the region by providing sustainably-grown leafy greens to the UAE market. It’s a 330,000-square-foot facility, spanning three floors with an output of about 3 tons per day, and over one million plants being grown at any given time. Hydroponic cultivation uses up to 95% less water than traditional outdoor farming, which gets to another one of our goals for the new facility: to bring fresh, local produce to areas that might not otherwise have access to it given the harsh desert climate.
ECO 1 serves as a strong proof point for how additional vertical farms could be scaled and replicated around the globe, meeting consumer demand and providing food sovereignty to any region that needs it.
There’s a good bit of talk about innovation in the vertical farming arena these days. What is Crop One up to and what differentiates you from some of the other leaders in the marketplace today?
Crop One is leading the way when it comes to advances in plant science, and we’re particularly excited about a new plant-based protein that we’re researching alongside fellow industry experts. We are confident that this new innovation will open up additional market opportunities. We look forward to sharing more about this in the coming weeks.
During Indoor Ag-Con, you’ll be participating in our “Food Security Through CEA” panel. What is one of the key messages you hope to share during this session?
The threats to our global food security are steadily increasing — a rapidly growing global population (as you probably saw, we just surpassed the 8 billion mark), declining arable land, climate change and increasingly severe weather events, and continued supply chain disruptions. These conditions are endangering the food futures of people all over the world, particularly those in places where they might not have the infrastructure or resources needed to overcome new food challenges. One of the key messages I hope to share during the session is that with so many of these threats entirely out of our control, we must focus on new technologies that can overcome — not eliminate — these hurdles. While traditional outdoor agriculture may have worked for the last millennia, it’s not the solution to sustain us into the future.
Crop One sells its fresh, local produce to 30+ US retail stores under the FreshBox Farms brand. Your marketing for the brand highlights Crop One’s “ Plants First” ™ approach. What is that and why is an important part of your messaging?
Unlike other vertical farming companies, Crop One has a Plants First™approach, which recognizes that advances in technology and plant science are synergistic, so the main focus is how to effectively and efficiently grow plants in an artificial environment based on their biology. Only then do we automate the process. The Plants First approach takes a few factors into consideration including plant science, digital systems and innovation, operational efficiency and hardware, together all ensuring that we create the most nutritious and tasty product on the market.
What’s Next for Crop One – plans for expansion?
Excitingly, we just announced our second U.S. farm, located in Hazle Township, Pennsylvania. The 316,000-square-foot facility allows us to reach up to 50 million consumers within a 200-mile radius across the tristate and Mid-Atlantic areas, including customers in New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. This new farm will allow us to meet growing retailer demand, while also introducing new consumers across the tristate area to the benefits of hydroponically grown produce.
And be sure to put Craig’s Indoor Ag-Con 2023 panel session on your schedule:
Food Security Through CEA
10 am – 10:50 AM PST | Monday, February 27
See Full Conference Schedule