In 2050, the planet’s population is predicted to increase to 9.7 billion, and feeding it will be a massive issue. 1 Due to urbanization and industrial development the world is losing arable land every day. The year 2015 saw scientists reveal that the Earth has lost about the equivalent of a third of arable land in the past forty years.
We aren’t aware of what we’re losing over the coming 40 years. The increasing demand for food due to an ever-growing population and declining arable land poses one of the biggest issues facing us. A lot of people believe vertical farming could provide the answer to this issue. Could vertical farming be becoming the new way to farm? Let’s discover!
What Is Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming refers to the process of growing food items on surfaces that are inclined vertically. Instead of cultivating vegetables and other food items in a single place, like within a garden or greenhouse, this technique makes food products by stacking them vertically. This is usually connected to other structures such as the skyscraper, shipping containers, or an old warehouse that has been repurposed.
Utilizing the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) technique, this new concept utilizes indoor farming techniques. Artificial control over light, temperature, and humidity, as well as gases, make the production of food and medical products indoors feasible. The concept of vertical agriculture is similar to greenhouses, where reflective metals and artificial lighting supplement the natural sunlight. The main purpose of vertical agriculture is to increase the yield of crops in a small area.
How Vertical Farming Works
There are four crucial aspects in understanding the process of vertical farming 1. Physical layout, 2. Lighting, 3. Growing medium and 4. Sustainability is a key feature.
The first and foremost purpose of vertical agriculture is to provide more food for each square meter. In order to achieve this goal, the crops are grown by stacking layers within towers. Additionally, a great mix of artificial and natural light is utilized to keep the ideal light level within the space. Technology like rotating beds is utilized to increase the efficiency of lighting.
In third place, instead of soils, the aeroponic hydroponic, or aquaponic growth mediums are employed. Coconut husks, peat moss, and other non-soil media are commonplace for vertical farms. Additionally, the method of vertical farming employs a variety of sustainable features to reduce the energy costs of farming. Actually, vertical farming consumes more water, which is 95% less. 3
Advantages and Disadvantages of Vertical Farming
Vertical farming holds a lot of potentials and sounds like it could be the next farm. But, there are a few obstacles to be aware of before leaping to vertical farming.
- It provides a strategy to meet future demands for food
- It lets crops grow all year round.
- It consumes significantly less water.
- The weather doesn’t have an effect on the crops.
- Organic crops are more likely to be produced
- The exposure is lower to harmful chemicals and diseases.
- It’s likely to be expensive to construct and the economic feasibility study hasn’t been completed
- The process of pollination is extremely expensive and difficult to accomplish.
- It could result in increased labor costs.
- It is dependent too heavily on technology and the possibility of a power failure could be devastating.
Advantages of Vertical Farming
Higher output with a smaller area of cultivation isn’t the only advantage that vertical agriculture offers. Here are a few most significant advantages of vertical farming:
- Preparation for the Future: By 2050, about 60% of the globe’s people are expected to reside in urban areas. the increasing number of people will cause an increase in the need for the consumption of food. 4 The successful use of vertical agriculture could play an important aspect in preparing for an issue.
- Achieved and Year-Round Produce: Vertical farming allows us to grow more crops within the same cultivating area. In reality, 1 acre of indoor space yields the same quantity as a minimum of 4 acres of outdoor space. 5 According to an estimate from an independent source that a building of 30 stories that has a total area of five acres could possibly produce the equivalent to 2,400 acres of traditional horizontal agriculture. 6 Additionally, year-round crop production can be achieved in an indoor controlled environment that is entirely managed by vertical farming techniques.
- Lower Use of water in cultivation: Vertical farming lets us produce crops using 70% – 95 percent less water than is required for conventional cultivation. 7
- not affected by unfavorable weather conditions: Crops in a field may be negatively affected by natural disasters like torrential rainfall, flooding, cyclones, or even severe droughts, which become more frequent because of global warming. Vertical farms in indoor spaces tend to not bear the brunt of adverse weather conditions, ensuring greater predictability of harvest production all through the entire year.
- The increase in the production of the organic crops: As crops are grown in a controlled indoor setting without the need for pesticides that are chemical Vertical farming permits us to cultivate pesticide-free and organic crops.
- Human and environmentally friendly: Indoor vertical farming can dramatically reduce the risk of occupational injury related to traditional farming. Farmers aren’t subjected to the dangers of heavy agricultural equipment and diseases such as malaria, toxic chemicals, other poisonous chemicals, and so on. Because it doesn’t affect forests and animals in inland areas as well, it helps to preserve biodiversity as well.
Limitations of Vertical Farming
Vertical farming has pros and pros. Sometimes, the advantages of vertical agriculture are explored but are not the cons. Here are the main drawbacks of farming vertically:
- No established economics: The financial feasibility of this innovative farming technique is still uncertain. The situation with regard to financials is evolving but the industry develops and technology becomes more advanced. For instance, Bowery, an indoor-farming company based in New Jersey, revealed on December 12, 2018, it had raised $90 million of new funding. In the year 2017, Plenty, a West Coast vertical-growing company announced an investment of $200 million through Softbank.
- Troubles with Pollination Vertical farming occurs in a controlled setting, without insect pests. Therefore, the process of pollination has to be carried out manually, which can be expensive and labor-intensive.
- Labor Costs In the same way that energy costs can be when you are farming vertically, the cost of labor could be greater because they are concentrated in cities in which wages are more expensive, and the requirement for skilled workers. Automatization in vertical farms, however, could result in fewer workers. Pollination by hand could become one of the most labor-intensive jobs on farms that are vertical.
- Too Much Dependence on Technology Development of higher-technological advancements can constantly improve efficiency and reduce cost. However, the entire vertical farming is incredibly dependent on a variety of methods of lighting, temperatures, and humidity. In the event of power loss, one day could be expensive for an entire vertical farm. Many people believe that the technology that is in use today isn’t suitable for widespread use.
Vertical Farming in the United States
Vertical farming is expanding rapidly within the U.S., at a CAGR of over 24% from 2018 to 2024, at which point it could increase to $3 billion a year. 8 By contrast, the entire U.S. fruit and vegetable industry was worth more than $104.7 billion in the year 2016. 9 According to one report, “Shoppers can now find produce grown indoors by more than 23 large vertical farms in more than 20 supermarket chains in nearly every major metropolitan area in the country.”
The sector is still high-risk this has raised concerns regarding its future viability since survival is contingent on expansion as it is capital-intensive. In the words of the same report, “While industry leaders say scaling offers the best hope for profitability in this business, many vertical farms have encountered problems when they began planning to add additional production facilities.”
The vertical farming techniques are relatively new. There is no way for businesses to successfully grow crops on a large scale and be able to afford it to satisfy the increasing demand for food. The success of farms such as AeroFarms will decide how significant vertical farming can take on in the future in order to tackle the issue of a growing demand for food.
It is important to note, however, that the technologies created for vertical farming are being utilized by other parts within the inside farming market including greenhouses which make use of sunlight, though they require larger amounts of land and more ways to get to market.
For those who want to “dig deeper” into indoor and vertical farming, go to Upstart University, AgTech Innovation Center, and 10 online platforms to help the next generation of Indoor Farmers