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DUBAI: Emirates Flight Catering and Crop One Holdings have officially opened what they describe as the largest vertical farm in the world.

Located close to Al-Maktoum International Airport in Dubai, the facility, called Bustanica, is the first vertical farm operated by Emirates Crop One, a joint venture between the two businesses. It is backed by an investment of $40 million.

Emirates Flight Catering, which supplies more than 100 airlines, hospitality groups and Emirati government agencies, is one of the world’s largest catering operations. Crop One Holdings, which is headquartered in the US state of Massachusetts, is considered an industry leader in technology-driven indoor vertical farming.

Bustanica, a 330,000-square-feet hydroponic farm, has been designed to produce more than 1 million kilograms of high-quality leafy greens each year, using 95 percent less water than conventional agricultural methods. At any given time, more than 1 million plants will be growing at the facility, with a daily output of 3,000 kg.

It is powered by cutting-edge technology, including machine learning, artificial intelligence and other advanced methods, overseen by a highly specialized in-house team of agronomy (the science of soil management and crop production) experts, engineers, horticulturists and plant scientists. The continuous production cycle ensures that the produce is extremely fresh and clean, and it is grown without the use of any pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals.

Passengers on flights operated by Emirates and many other airlines can expect to be served leafy greens grown at the farm, including lettuce, arugula and spinach, beginning this month. In addition, shoppers in the UAE will be able to add the farm’s greens to their carts at local supermarkets. Bustanica also plans to expand into production and sale of other vegetables and fruit.

“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, the chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline and Group.

“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, optimize operations, and minimize our environmental footprint. Bustanica helps secure our supply chain and ensures our customers can enjoy locally sourced, nutritious produce.”

He continued: “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.”

Crop One CEO Craig Ratajczyk said: “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 irrigation system is designed to circulate water through the plants to maximize usage efficiency. As the water evaporates, it is recovered and recycled by the system, saving about 250 million liters each year compared with traditional outdoor farming methods that yield the same output.

In addition to the greatly reduced water use, Bustanica will have no impact on threatened soil resources and produce year-round harvests unhampered by the weather or pests.

The greens grown at the facility are so clean and pure, consumers who buy them from supermarkets will be able to eat them safely straight from the bag, producers say, because even the act of washing them can damage the leaves and introduce contaminants.

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