Located near Al Maktoum International airport in Dubai, Bustanica is a huge vertical farm, capable of growing thousands of kilos of salad for Emirates flights. Jenny Southan reports

Said to be the world’s largest hydroponic farm, Bustanica is the first vertical grow site from Emirates Crop One, a joint venture between Emirates Flight Catering (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.

Backed by an investment of US$40 million, the 30,658 sqm facility will save more than 250 million litres of water per year (thanks to consuming 95 per cent less water than conventional agriculture), and produce over one million kilos of leafy greens that are free from pesticides, herbicides and chemicals per year.

At any point in time, the facility grows in excess of one million cultivars (plants), which will provide an output of 3,000kgs per day. Eventually, the site will also grow fruits and vegetables.Taking agriculture to the cutting-edge, Bustanica is driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence, which is managed by 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”.

The new vertical farm means passengers on Emirates flights (and other airlines too) can eat freshly grown salad – such as lettuces, arugula, mixed salad greens and spinach – that have been picked right before take-off.Bustanica hydroponic farmBustanica is not just revolutionising salad 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.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of 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.

“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.”Bustanica hydroponic farmCraig Ratajczyk, chief executive officer of Crop One, says: “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.”

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 250 million 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.