Emirates flight catering unit opens world's biggest vertical farm in Dubai

The $40m Bustanica hydroponic farm near DWC will produce more than a million kilos of greens annually with 95% less water than conventional farming

Greens on multi-tier growing racks at the world's biggest vertical farm in Dubai. Photo: Emirates
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Emirates has opened the world’s largest vertical farming plant in Dubai, a $40 million (Dh147m) joint venture with US-based Crop One, as the UAE continues to bolster its food and water security.

Bustanica, the 330,000 square-foot hydroponic farm located near Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), is set to grow more than a million kilograms of leafy greens annually, or about 3,000kg per day, Emirates said in a statement on Monday.

Using 95 per cent less water than traditional farming and saving 250 million litres of water, Bustanica will grow fresh produce without pesticides, herbicides or chemicals.

"Long-term food security and self-sufficiency are vital to the economic growth of any country, and the UAE is no exception," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Group.

"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."

Bustanica is the first facility for Emirates Crop One, a joint venture between Emirates' flight catering unit and indoor vertical farming firm Crop One.

Emirates Flight Catering, a subsidiary of Emirates group, supplies in-flight food for Emirates and other airlines at Dubai International Airport.

Vertical farming is a technique with a significantly smaller carbon footprint than traditional agriculture. This method grows plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water and without soil. They are grown in a fully controlled environment — everything from temperature, humidity, lighting, water and nutrients is precisely monitored, maximising growth and yield.

The new farm is in line with the UAE's National Food Strategy 2051 agenda for reliable year-round crop production and stable supply chain that is independent of weather and attacks by pests or fungus.

Bustanica will rely on machine learning, artificial intelligence and advanced methods — and a specialised in-house team of agronomy experts, engineers, horticulturists and plant scientists — to grow fresh produce.

Passengers on Emirates and other airlines can start consuming these leafy greens, including lettuces, arugula, mixed salad greens and spinach, onboard flights from this month.

UAE consumers will also soon be able to add these greens to their shopping carts at the nearest supermarkets, according to the statement.

Bustanica also plans to expand into the production and sale of fruits and other vegetables.

Bustanica will secure Emirates Flight Catering's supply chain and reduce its carbon footprint by bringing production closer to consumption and "reducing the food journey from farm to fork", Sheikh Ahmed said.

The plant opened after "significant planning and construction" and navigating the unforeseen challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Craig Ratajczyk, chief executive of Crop One, said.

"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."

The UAE has been accelerating its support of AgriTech companies to reduce reliance on food imports, which is thought to make up nearly 90 per cent of food consumed in the country. Abu Dhabi has launched a number of initiatives, including $41m in grants and incentives worth $545m to support expansion.

UAE residents are already seeing evidence of recent efforts to localise agriculture: locally harvested produce at the market or on dining menus is now a common sight. Much of this has surfaced over the past few years as vertical and hydroponic farming ventures, research and cloud-seeding bear fruit.

Updated: July 19, 2022, 3:40 AM