Emirates to build world’s largest Silicon Valley-based Agri-tech firm Crop One Holding and Emirates Flight Catering, one of the world’s largest airline catering operators, are breaking ground in November on what will be the world’s largest vertical farm in Dubai.
The United Arab Emirates is second only to Kuwait for water scarcity. The country imports 85 percent of its food, and has very little arable land.
Emirates Flight catering provides 225,000 meals to the Dubai International Airport every single day. They believe that indoor farming is a practical solution to the demand and the water shortage.
The two companies will start construction in November 2018, and start delivering crops to Emirates Flight Catering’s customers, including 105 airlines and 25 airport lounges, in December 2019. Crop One currently operates a vertical farm in Millis, Massachusetts, and delivers to Boston metro area grocery stores under the Fresh Box Farms brand name.
Crop One claims that the 130,000 square foot space, which will cost $40 million to construct, can produce the same quantity of greens as an open field with 99 percent less water. They estimate their facility will be able to provide 6,000 pounds of greens for harvest every day once it’s up and running.
Vertical farming leaves a lot of the variables that conventional farming are subject to behind. Things like soil health, temperature, and humidity are highly controlled. The process is sometimes called “seasonless,” because growth is not dependent on what time of year it is and can continue all year long.
It’s also an appealing option because of how a vertical farm can be built inside an urban environment, reducing transportation costs and environmental impact.
The CEO of Emirates Flight Catering, Saeed Mohammed, says the company believes that the farm will allow them to “secure our own supply chain of high quality and locally-sourced fresh vegetables, while significantly reducing our environmental footprint.”
Some people contest how energy efficient the process is, saying that there are high-energy needs in a vertical farm, because the plants are lit by LEDs, and their needs are met by fairly sophisticated technology, which obviously requires electricity.
Crop One has promised to incorporate solar technology into their design, but will be using a mix of solar and “utility source” electricity. But the push to be the most energy efficient design may soon be a bigger bragging right than “biggest” vertical farm.
Author Dickson Despommier, who has written extensively about vertical farming, told CNN that’s his perspective.
“To be honest, who cares who’s the biggest?” He says. “I want to know who’s the most efficient and who’s producing the (widest) diversity of plants that people actually eat, rather than just leafy green vegetables — which is what seems to be the gold standard right now for actually jumping off from non-profitability to profitability.”
But he is impressed that Emirates Flight Catering is taking this step. They’re one of the largest airline food facilities in the world.
“To see a major economic player like Emirates Airlines getting involved in an alternative to importing all their food is remarkable. The industry has grown to the point where they can actually do that and expect a return on their investment.”
It is now clear that when passengers board their flights at Dubai International Airport by 2020 they will be served greens and herbs grown from a more high-tech source.
The new farm in Dubai will surpass the size of the current world’s largest vertical farm, which is operated by AeroFarms. The facility grows greens inside a 69,000-square-foot warehouse in Newark, New Jersey. AeroFarms and other big indoor farming companies mostly sell their products to supermarkets, but Crop One believes greater opportunity may lie within airline partnerships.
According to Sonia Lo, Crop One’s CEO, airlines tend to have a more reliable demand than grocers.
“Airlines are attractive, because they give our farms anchor customers that have a predictable volume and price,” she told Business Insider magazine. “Most vertical farmers can’t address the food-service market, because they simply can’t make money doing so.”
ON ANY GIVEN DAY THE EMIRATES FACILITY PRODUCES…
- 7,500 desserts for first and business class customers
- 65,000 desserts for economy class
- 15,000 muffins
- 65,000 salads (5,000 for first/business class and 60,000 for economy)
- 1,200 litres of tomato juice
- Over 3million items of equipment such as cutlery, crockery, glassware are washed