How Agritech Solutions are Combating Global Food Security Issues

Q&A with Sky Kurtz, CEO of Pure Harvest

Pure Harvest Smart Farms is a technology-enabled agribusiness firm headquartered in Abu Dhabi, and is now looking to bring its capability to generate year-round sustainable production of pesticide-free premium fruits and vegetables to Asia-Pacific. Having pioneered in commercial-scale, semi-automated greenhouses in the Middle East, Pure Harvest believes its proven technology can address food security, water conservation and sustainability needs in the APAC region.

In this Q&A Pure Harvest Co-Founder and CEO Sky Kurtz talks about their plans for the Asia-Pacific region and how their solutions can help with food security issues that are affecting the globe.

Sky Kurtz

Does Pure Harvest Smart Farms have offices / facilities / farms in Asia / APAC region or plan to expand here?

At the moment Pure Harvest Smart Farms (“Pure Harvest” or the “Company”) operates solely in the GCC. As innovators of the Middle East’s first commercial-scale, semi-automated high-tech hybrid growing system, Pure Harvest leverages innovative growing technologies and horticultural best practices to enable year-round production of affordable, cleaner-than-organic fresh produce anywhere. Pure Harvest has demonstrated its capability to grow high-quality, affordable production in some of the harshest climates in the world, including the desert, sub-tropical climate of the UAE.  The Company is now leveraging that proven capability to expand into new markets, with a keen focus on the APAC region. Pure Harvest has existing investors that are based in Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore, and is engaged in numerous partnership discussions in key Asian geographies to underpin its expansion. It is safe to expect that Pure Harvest will have a regional head office in the APAC region within calendar 2022.

As the Company expands across the GCC, Pure Harvest is investing significant R&D resources to improve its solution to improve its capital efficiency, reduce the project delivery time (what we called “concept to cucumber”), and to deliver greater output per unit of light (light-efficiency). The Company is also developing design templates to standardize its integration with other infrastructure (e.g. power plants, de-salination plans, industrial flu gas emitters, renewable energy infrastructure) and to utilize treated wastewater in its cooling systems in an effort to reduce its environmental impact and improve its competitiveness.

Are Pure Harvest Smart Farms’ products currently on sale in Asia? If so, what are they?Pure Harvest Logo

Pure Harvest Smart Farms products can be found in some of the most respected and far-reaching retailers in the GCC, as well as numerous reputable hotels and restaurants in the UAE. The company currently grows 26 commercial varieties of tomatoes — including six that have never before been seen — and six varieties of strawberries. Leafy greens, baby spinach, and a much larger production of strawberries are coming soon. Upon completion of the company’s Kuwaiti facility, the product portfolio will broaden even further, including raspberries, blackberries, additional vine crops and lettuces.

While Pure Harvest Smart Farms products are currently not on sale in Asia, this is something the company plans to change in the next five years.

Is the technology used in your agritech your proprietary innovation?

Pure Harvest Smart Farms uses a combination of imported and proprietary technologies, converting sun energy into food as cheaply as possible. Pure Harvest Smart Farms has created a proprietary system that integrates into multiple technologies from Holland and the U.S. with an exclusive license to that software. The company is entering the world stage of a tech-agricultural business, tackling the problem of food security. Prior to Pure Harvest’s establishment in the UAE, year-round local production of fresh fruits and vegetables wasn’t possible. As mentioned in (1) above, the Company is not yet producing in Asia. It is an extremely high-priority market and Pure Harvest is actively engaged in discussions with governments, incumbent infrastructure companies, investors, and selected food retailers evaluating alternatives for market entry and building a pipeline of projects. Pure Harvest sees the fast-growing demographics, healthy diet trends, seasonal import dependence, and the climate (seasonal heat & humidity) as attractive, lending themselves to the Company’s proven value proposition. Pure Harvest can capitalize on these factors and the abundance of sunlight for geographic locations within ~3,000 miles of the equator to design, build and operate high-tech, climate-controlled growing solutions within the region to enable year-round production, even in the most difficult places. The Company is extremely excited to be speaking with potential future Asian partners & investors and welcomes inbound interest from qualified partners who wish to work together to build a more sustainable food system in the APAC region.

Agriculture is the single-largest user of freshwater, how do you meet that challenge?

Pure Harvest’s growing systems differ from existing systems used by traditional growers in the Gulf region and abroad. Pure Harvest’s controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) solution features an overpressure climate control system which not only serves to maintain the most optimal growing conditions, but also helps to recapture any condensation water created to ‘create’ water, reducing our reliance upon groundwater and municipal water. An advanced hydroponic growing system recirculates 100% of excess water, while sensors and advanced data analytics provide climate management. The Company achieves 10-15x higher yields versus incumbent low-tech growing solutions (35x+ versus traditional field farms) and are 7-10x+ more productive per litre of water versus conventional farms. Eighty-three percent of the water that Pure Harvest consumes leaves the farm in the food, the rest is utilized in the climate systems, de-salination losses and irrigation losses.

The Singapore government would like the Agritech sector to produce 30 percent of the country’s nutrition by 2030, are you speaking with governments in the region to work with them?

Yes. In the future, Pure Harvest would like to see mass production and distribution of smart farms. These growing systems will be able to be constructed quickly, endorsed by local governments and local farmers, and utilise Pure Harvest’s technologies and growing solutions to be integrated into the mainstream. We have to face the facts, by 2050, we will have almost 10 billion mouths to feed. The world will require 70% more food to feed these people. However, most people never double-click on WHERE this 70% is needed… The US, China, Australia, and Brazil, for example, are net exports of fruits & vegetables. Markets like the Middle East, South East Asia, parts of South America, nearly all of Africa, and Russia represent the lion’s share of this potentially catastrophic shortage in food.

Our planet is transforming itself, and the climate is changing. Across the globe, our arable land masses are shrinking, and our water sources are being depleted. At this rate, there will not be enough resources in the world to feed everyone in the future. Pure Harvest is completely committed to supporting public initiatives focused upon improved food security, food sovereignty, water conservation, skilled job creation, economic diversification and sustainability. Through constant engagement with governments, schools, and research institutions, we believe that together, we can bring the MENASA region into the next generation of sustainable agriculture. Working with these important stakeholders, by deploying our innovative, resource-efficient food production solutions (even in the harshest of environments), we can create a more sustainable future for our food and for our planet.

Who are your major shareholders? Are there any from Asia?

We have received significant inbound interest from entrepreneurs and investors in Southeast and Central Asia which suffers from many of the same climate challenges and import-driven trade dynamics for fresh produce as the Middle East.

It is undeniable that our technology has the potential to deliver far-reaching benefits to other similar climate areas around the world. By delivering a climate-agnostic growing system which maintains a perfect Mediterranean climate for plants year-round, anywhere in the world, our system is able to ensure food security in other communities based in hot/humid climates around the world. For example, places within 2,000 miles of the equator, where traditionally fruit and vegetables have not been possible year-round. Additionally, due to the level of climate control that the smart farms are afforded by the high-tech climate management systems, Pure Harvest can cultivate more flavourful varieties of crops while consuming 1/7th of the water versus traditional greenhouse growing systems. This is attractive for both new investors and existing stakeholders.

Pure Harvest is a Partner for the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit and Sky Kurtz, CEO, will speak on the Fireside Chat ‘Climate Investing for Sustainable Food Systems’ on November 16, 2021 in Singapore. See the full agenda here.