World’s largest vertical farm opens in Dubai

The farm will save in excess of 250mn litres of water and produce over one million kilos of produce annually that’s free of pesticides, herbicides and chemicals

A 30,658sqm vertical hydroponic farm is now officially open in Dubai. Built near the Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, Bustanica is billed as the world’s largest vertical farm – it is over twice the size of a 13,500sqm facility being developed in the UK by Jones Food Company (JFC), Middle East Construction News (MECN) can reveal. The JFC facility is expected to be Europe’s largest vertical farm once it opens later in the year.

The $40mn Bustanica facility has been designed to produce more than 1,000,000kg of high-quality leafy greens annually, while requiring 95% less water than conventional agriculture. At any point in time, the facility grows more than 1mn cultivars (plants), which will provide an output of approximately 3,000kgs per day. The facility is also said to save over 1,000MW in terms of the production of water.

The vertical farm project is the first for Emirates Crop One, a joint venture (JV) company set up by Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC) and Crop One. The latter is said to be an industry leader in technology-driven vertical farming.

In May, 2021, Dubai launched the Food Tech Valley business park, which will focus on helping to develop vertical farming and other advanced agriculture technology to bolster the UAE’s food security.

According to EKFC, Bustanica is driven by technology including machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), and is run by a 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, the firm said.

The facility will serve passengers on Emirates and other airlines, in addition to UAE consumers via their nearest supermarkets. Bustanica also plans to expand into the production and sale of fruits and vegetables, EKFC pointed out. The facility is said to support the UAE’s National Food Strategy 2051 agenda and the UAE’s Water Security Strategy 2036 agenda.

“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,” said His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airlines and Group.

He added, “Emirates Flight Catering constantly invests in the latest technologies to delight customers, optimise operations, and minimise our environmental footprint. Bustanica helps secure our supply chain, and ensures our customers can enjoy locally sourced, nutritious produce. By bringing production closer to consumption, we’re reducing the food journey from farm to fork. Congratulations to the Bustanica team for their remarkable achievements so far and for setting global standards and benchmarks in agronomy.”

In November 2021, the WenChao Group said it planned to develop a world-class food manufacturing and distribution facility in Dubai Industrial City.

Vertical farming is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water and
without the use of soil. With vertical farming, plants are grown in an entirely controlled environment — everything from the temperature, humidity, lighting, water, and nutrients are precisely monitored and controlled, maximising growth and yield, and virtually eliminating any risk of contamination, EKFC pointed out.

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 250mn litres of water every year compared to traditional outdoor farming for the same output, it noted.

Craig Ratajczyk, Chief Executive Officer, 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 JV 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.”

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, EKFC pointed out.

In May 2022, the ADAFSA awarded a $84.3mn contract to develop two farms in the UAE in line with the country’s journey to achieving greater food security.

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