Globe’s largest hydroponic farm will increase food production and cut water usage

Emirates Airlines has announced the opening of the world’s largest hydroponic farm, utilising AI and machine learning to enhance the ability to grow the food to feed the world’s growing aviation passenger numbers.

The facility is the first vertical farm for Emirates Crop One, the joint venture between Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC), one of the world’s largest catering operations serving more than 100 airlines, and Crop One, an industry leader in technology-driven indoor vertical farming and has been backed by a $40 million investment.

Located near Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, the 330,000sqft facility is geared to produce more than 1,000,000 kilograms of high-quality leafy greens annually, while requiring 95% less water than conventional agriculture. At any point in time, the facility grows in excess of 1 million cultivars, which will provide an output of 3,000 kgs per day.

HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline and Group said: “Long-term food security and self-sufficiency are vital to the economic growth of any country, and the UAE is no exception. We’ve specific challenges in our region, given the limitations around arable land and climate. Bustanica ushers in a new era of innovation and investments, which are important steps for sustainable growth and align with our country’s well-defined food and water security strategies.

The operation, named Bustanica is driven by advanced technology – machine learning, artificial intelligence – and a highly specialised in-house team that includes agronomy experts, engineers, horticulturists and plant scientists. A continuous production cycle ensures the produce is super fresh and clean, and grown without pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals.

“Passengers on Emirates and other airlines can look forward to forking these delicious leafy greens, including lettuces, arugula, mixed salad greens, and spinach, onboard their flights from July,” added Emirates Airlines in a statement. “Bustanica is not just revolutionising salads in the sky – UAE consumers will soon be able to add these greens to their shopping carts at the nearest supermarkets. Bustanica also plans to expand into the production and sale of fruits and vegetables.”

The farm’s closed-loop system is designed to circulate water through the plants to maximise water usage and efficiency. When the water vaporises, it is recovered and recycled into the system, saving 250m litres of water every year compared to traditional outdoor farming for the same output.

Bustanica will have zero impact on the world’s threatened soil resources, an incredibly reduced reliance on water and year-round harvests unhampered by weather conditions and pests. Consumers buying Bustanica’s greens from supermarkets can eat it straight from the bag – even washing can damage the leaves and introduce contaminants.

Craig Ratajczyk, CEO, Crop One added: “After significant planning and construction, and navigating the unforeseen challenges of the pandemic, we’re thrilled to celebrate this tremendous milestone alongside our joint venture partner, Emirates Flight Catering. It’s our mission to cultivate a sustainable future to meet global demand for fresh, local food, and this first large format farm is the manifestation of that commitment. This new facility serves as a model for what’s possible around the globe.”

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