Airline passengers set to devour salad greens from world's largest hydroponic farm

Seedlings at the new hydroponic farm in Dubai
More than a million kilos of salad greens will be grown in a space the size of three rugby fields. Photo credit: Supplied / Emirates

Passengers on flights to and from Aotearoa may find themselves eating leafy greens grown in the world's largest hydroponic farm starting this month.

Bustanica is a US$40 million vertical farm, a joint venture between Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC), which serves more than 100 airlines, and Crop One, an industry leader in technology-driven indoor farming.

The 30,000 square-metre facility - about the size of three large rugby fields - is located near Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai.

Vertical farming means it doesn't require a massive footprint as it uses water with mineral nutrient solutions to grow the plants in racks without the need for soil. 

The plants are grown in a closely controlled environment where the temperature, humidity, lighting, water and nutrients are precisely monitored and controlled, maximising growth and yield.

According to the company more than a million kilograms of leafy greens - like lettuces, rocket, mixed salad greens and spinach - will be produced each year, while using 95 percent less water than conventional farming.

At any one time, more than one million plants will be growing, allowing 3000kg to be harvested every day.

Bustanica is using machine learning and artificial intelligence alongside an in-house team that includes agronomy experts, engineers, horticulturists and plant scientists to run the farm.

The new hydroponic farm that will supply Emirates and other airlines with salad greens
Photo credit: Supplied / Emirates

The farm's closed-loop system will circulate water, recovering and recycling it as it evaporates - saving around 250 million litres of water compared to outdoor farming.

Bustanica is already planning to expand into the production and sale of fruits and vegetables, it said.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline and Group said the move ushered in a "new era of innovation and investments".

"Emirates Flight Catering constantly invests in the latest technologies to delight customers, optimise operations, and minimise our environmental footprint.

"Bustanica… 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."