In the next month, ground will be broken near Ballycon, Daingean, Co Offaly, for Ireland’s first major hydroponic farm.

All going to plan, the farm will be in operation by the end of June 2022 and 35 days later the first batch of produce will be packed.

In total, 10,500m2 of glass, just over 1ha, will be built and the plants inside – leafy greens for salads – will be grown using water filled with the required nutrients for plant growth.

The system allows for a consistent supply, growing produce 365 days a year.

Ironically, though the farm does not use soil or peat to grow crops, it is being built on a leased site owned by Bórd na Móna.

Karen Hennessy, CEO of the business, described the new venture as a sustainable farm which will bring at least 17 jobs to the area.

Karen Hennessy is CEO of Real Leaf Farm.

It is clear that the plan is to replace imports of these salads into the country with local, clean produce.

No pesticides will be used on the farm and 80% to 90% of the water used will come from harvested rainwater.

Karen explained how the company is planning for carbon neutrality. LED lights will be needed in winter, but the company is working on a renewable source of energy.

It’s a very clean product, grown in a natural but very clean environment

“It’s great for the midlands. It’s the first of its kind in Ireland on such a commercial scale,” Karen said.

“It’s a very clean product, grown in a natural but very clean environment. It doesn’t need to be washed and the packing will also take place on site. At the moment, we’re going the food service route, but we are considering the retail route also.”

Replacing imports

“The vast majority of leafy greens consumed in this country are imported,” Karen noted, and the company has no intention of trying to replace Irish product on the market. There is plenty of business for all.

Shelf life is a major downfall of many of these products and Real Leaf Farm has been researching how to improve that. Karen explained that the proximity of the buyers to the product’s source is the first step in increasing shelf life.

“We’ve trialled this and we were getting significantly longer shelf life because of the fact that, in 24 hours, it can be on a shelf or a plate.

“They’re grown in a very natural environment, but the plants are not subjected to the wind and the rain or birds, for example.

“We will be growing in deep water ponds, which are then harvested. Leafy greens are very delicate plants so the type of growing process we are using with limited interaction of both the elements or handling will ensure a longer shelf life.”

Avoiding waste in production and by the consumer

Food loss is estimated at US$2.6 trillion a year worldwide, according to the FAO, and leafy greens are one of the bigger contributors to food waste around the world. Shelf life plays a big part in this.

Karen explained how this locally produced food is sustainable and can dramatically reduce waste on all parts of the supply chain.

Mixed leaves are an extremely popular product.

“It’s a controlled environment. We’re controlling the temperature and the lighting, the water and the nutrients that you’re giving the plant.

“There’s very little waste. The plant is taking up whatever nutrients it needs and what is left in the water is ready for the next batch that’s going in.

“We’re very happy that we’ll be harvesting the water and that will account for 80% to 90% of our needs.

“It’s a very sustainable product and, with the extended shelf life, there should be a lot less waste.

“We are currently looking to develop our second farm in the UK once the Ballycon site is up and running.

Quick facts

  • 10,500m2 glass.
  • 80% to 90% of water used will be rainwater.
  • 35-day growing cycle.
  • Can produce 450t/year.
  • Plants growing 365 days/year.
  • Future plans

    Real Leaf Farm is currently looking for sites in the UK for its next farm and there are major plans to build a number of farms across the country.

    Karen noted that the company is starting an investment round for €25m and this will contribute to the establishment of a number of facilities. In the next few months, it will all start in Co Offaly and, all going well, Irish leafy greens grown on water, under glass, will be on a plate for your summer salad.


    As we focus more and more on reducing emissions from agriculture and, indeed, food miles, this development in Co Offaly certainly looks to be a good solution for the salad market. It ticks many boxes on the sustainability front – eliminating pesticides, harvesting rainwater and producing food for the local market all year round. As more calls come for land to be dedicated to biodiversity will this farm, just over 1ha in size, be the way forward for this type of food production?

    Aside from the Irish producers, much of what is consumed in this category could be produced using hydroponics at present, but consumers do not realise it as it happens in a different country.

    There is certainly room to reduce food imports in this country and creating that controlled environment to reduce inputs looks like a solution.