The United Arab Emirates opens the largest vertical garden in the world. And in one of the most strategic —and perhaps unexpected— locations possible: near Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai. The huge facility, which encompasses around 30.600 m2 spread over three floors and has been designed to generate more than a thousand tons of vegetables a year with a system that saves land, energy and water. Its creators are already thinking of going further and adding fruit to the harvest.
The site, named Bustanica, which means garden or orchard in Arabic, wants to produce large quantities of vegetables, overcoming the difficulties of cultivation in the Emirates and, incidentally, reaching levels of efficiency and savings that exceed those of conventional gardens.
Muscle is not lacking to achieve it. Behind the installation is Emirates Crop One, a company promoted by Emirates Flight Catering —under the umbrella of the giant The Emirates Group— and the firm specialized in vertical agriculture Crop One. Bustanica has activated its first installation, in fact, with the support of a hefty investment that is around $40 million.
Crops with less water and artificial intelligence
If his expectations are met, the garden will produce around 3,000 kilos of vegetables per day, mainly vegetables, kale, spinach and arugula, although Bustanica plans to diversify production over time and also add fruit. To carry out the harvests, the firm uses the hydroponic method -Emirates claims in fact that it is also the largest farm of this type-, which replaces agricultural land with mineral solutions.
The company dispenses with the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, among other chemicals, and treats the water it then feeds the vegetables with “a precisely calculated mix” of different nutrients, including phosphorus or calcium. “Precision agriculture means that each plant gets the optimal mixclaims the firm”. Thanks to its mechanism, which includes a closed circuit, it also guarantees that the different nutrients and water are not lost.
To gain efficiency, Emirates Flight Catering and Crop One have developed a mechanism that controls the proper functioning of the orchard, including water treatment, solution management or even lighting. The process is supported, among other resources, by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. “This means that plants are supported by millions of data points collected each day for maximum growth and are supplied with the exact amount of light, water and nutrients for plants, without soil”, they emphasize from the company.
Waiting for the Dubai facility to demonstrate its capacity, Bustanica is already chesting the levels of savings that, he assures, it will achieve in its orchard. His calculations suggest that the crops will require 95% less water than conventional agriculture: if 317 liters are invested in each kilo of vegetables grown using the traditional method, its hydroponic solution will require 15.
Each year they expect to save more than 250 million liters of water and around 1,000 MW of energy. Everything, they emphasize, while avoiding land degradation. Nutrient-rich water is continuously and precisely recirculated to each crop, eliminating nutrient leaching into the soil, a concern in conventional agriculture.
The vertical garden solution will also make it possible to increase the profitability of the space and —a key factor in Dubai— overcome the challenge posed by high temperatures and a lack of rainfall that has already led the authorities to look for formulas such as artificial cloud seeding. “We have specific challenges in our region given constraints around arable land and climate,” adds Emirates Airline and Group Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The company goes further and emphasizes its “zero impact” on the resources of threatened soils, its “incredibly reduced dependency” of water and the possibility of having crops throughout the year “without obstacles due to climatic conditions and pests”.
For now, its lettuce, arugula and spinach can be enjoyed from July in the catering of Emirates and other airlines served by Emirates Flight Catering. The firm also advances that its production “soon” will reach supermarkets in the United Arab Emirates.
Images | emirates
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