DUBAI: Smart Acres aims to support the UAE’s food security program by using high-tech vertical farming to produce approximately 8,000 kilograms of lettuce per cycle.
“In the expansion phase, we will have 78 modules, which comes to a total of 88,320 pots. Each lettuce, for example, will weigh 100 grams. So, that is approximately 8,000 kilograms of crops per cycle,” the company’s CEO Abdulla Al-Kaabi told Arab News.
The vertical farm — currently in the proof-of-concept stage — is expected to launch in the third quarter of 2020, producing 12 cycles of crops annually and expanding from Abu Dhabi to the rest of the country. In this type of farming, plants are stocked vertically, providing more produce per area and resembling something similar to the green walls sometimes seen in malls.
The company collaborated with South Korean vertical farming technology n.thing to employ the Internet of Things in their farming so as to efficiently use water and monitor humidity, temperature and nutrients.
“Vertical farms, in general, save over 90 percent of water compared to traditional farming methods. There is a constant water flow across all the little pots, and the water is filled with all the nutrients necessary for the plant to grow,” Lead Project Manager Aphisith Joe Phongsavanh said.
The high-tech design of the farm allows Smart Acres to produce clean crops without any pesticides and with minimal intervention.
“Since we are growing our crops in a 100 percent closed environment, we don’t have to use pesticides at all. That’s exactly what we mean by clean food: non-adulterated food products that go through minimal processing,” Phongsavanh said.
However, this closed environment in which the plants grow requires staff and visitors to wear protective gear before entering the premises in order to preserve the sterility of the area.
“It is almost like going into a very high-tech factory. You have to wear lab coats and go through an air shower, where one is door closed and the other door only opens after 10 seconds of disinfection,” Director of Smart Acres Sean Lea said.
Currently, the company does not have any investors, but Al-Kaabi said that the expansion phase “of course will require an investment,” expected to cost around AED16.7 million ($4.5 million).
It will not just include a larger number of crops, but also a research and development center with a vision to start cultivating baby spinach, mature spinach, baby arugula, strawberries and potato seeds.
Earlier in July, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan visited some local farms and met with agricultural entrepreneurs.
“I was pleased to meet some of the UAE’s aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs who are pioneering sustainable and resilient farming practices using modern technology,” Al-Nahyan tweeted.
I was pleased to meet some of the UAE’s aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs who are pioneering sustainable & resilient farming practices using modern technology. Innovation in this sector is key to our food security goals, and our country’s diversified economic growth. pic.twitter.com/1Z3QF6bLhL
— محمد بن زايد (@MohamedBinZayed) July 4, 2020
The UAE is pushing for local production of crops and livestock. According to Khaleej Times, the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority provided over $174 million to “138,000 families, 30,632 breeders and farmers, and 259 small-scale producers and commercial animal farms in Abu Dhabi” to support the industry in June.