The A-Z Guide on Vertical Farming
The future of agriculture is a pressing concern as the global population continues to grow at a rate of 1% per year.
The challenge of feeding this growing population will rapidly increase in the coming years.
Current agricultural practices also contribute to environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation, and soil degradation. Over 40 years, we have lost a third of our arable land.
It is essential to explore new farming technologies to sustain future generations, such as vertical farming, which can address these challenges and meet coming food needs.
What is Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming refers to growing plants in stacked layers, often using artificial lighting and controlled environments.
This allows for the year-round production of crops, regardless of weather conditions in a relatively small footprint compared to traditional farming.
The plants are grown in hydroponic or aeroponic systems, which use nutrient-rich water solutions instead of soil. This can reduce water usage and minimize the need for pesticides.
Vertical farming can be done in various settings, including warehouses, shipping containers, and even skyscrapers.
The stacked layers can be several stories high, and the plants are often grown using LED lights that mimic natural sunlight.
Moreover, the controlled environment of vertical farms allows for precise control of temperature, humidity, light, and other factors that affect plant growth.
Vertical Farming: History
Vertical farming may seem like a recent development, but the concept has been around for centuries.
The earliest known example is the Babylonian Hanging Gardens, dating back 2,500 years.
Even using hydroponics can be traced back to ancient times, with the Aztecs practicing a form called chinampas by growing plants on rafts in rivers and lakes.
In the 1600s, farmers in France and the Netherlands used technology to create microclimates by growing warm-climate fruits against stone walls that retained heat.
How Does It Work?
Vertical farming is a promising solution to many of the challenges facing agriculture today, as it allows for more food to be produced on less land sustainably.
But how does it work?
There are several models of vertical farming, from small patio gardens to large warehouses and greenhouses.
One example is the hydroponic greenhouses that use stacked plant spots within tower-like structures to cultivate crops. The patented towers create the ideal microclimate, allowing farmers to grow crops year-round.
The system also provides access to natural sunlight, reducing land, water, and energy consumption.
Additionally, the technology includes production tools that enable farmers to optimize crop cycles and yield a high quantity.
Now, What are the Benefits?
Year-round Food Production
Vertical farming allows for year-round crop production in a controlled environment, leading to higher yields per square foot than traditional farming methods.
Moreover, production continues regardless of weather conditions, which can reduce the impact of climate change on agriculture and meet the growing demand for food as the population increases.
Increased Food Security/Safety
It allows for crop production in urban areas, which can help to improve food security in densely populated regions.
Vertical farming can also reduce the risk of food contamination from soil-borne pathogens and minimize the need for pesticides and other chemicals.
Enhanced Nutritional Value
Vertical farming allows for precise control of the growing environment, which can lead to higher nutritional content in the crops produced.
Vertical farming environments can be carefully controlled to minimize the need for pesticides and other chemicals. This can lead to healthier food and a reduced environmental impact.
Reduced Water Usage
Traditional farming relies on large amounts of water for irrigation, but vertical farming uses hydroponic or aeroponic systems that recirculate nutrient-rich water to the plants. This can lead to significant water savings.
Less Land Usage
Vertical farming allows crop production in a relatively small footprint compared to traditional farming. This can help to preserve natural habitats and reduce the amount of land needed for agriculture.
Condensed Transportation Costs
Vertical farming can reduce the need to transport produce long distances, which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease costs.
Reduced Carbon Footprint
Vertical farming can reduce the need for heavy machinery, pesticides, and transportation, leading to a lower carbon footprint than traditional farming.
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Eradicates Environmental Impacts
Indoor vertical farming often employs a technique called Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).
CEA utilizes various technologies to create optimal growing conditions for plants by controlling temperature, lighting, and humidity. This allows farmers to grow plants that would not thrive in the local climate and weather.
CEA setups offer several benefits:
- They reduce the hazards associated with traditional farming, such as exposure to wildlife and diseases like malaria.
- Indoor farming also eliminates the need for hazardous chemicals, protecting farmers and nearby communities.
- Additionally, vertical farming can be used for other purposes, such as producing pharmaceuticals.
For instance, Caliber Biotherapeutics in Texas uses an 18-story, 150,000-square-foot facility containing 2.2 million tobacco-like plants to create new drugs and vaccines. The indoor farm’s close monitoring and control protect these plants from diseases and contamination.
Food Desert Solution
Vertical farms solve the growing issue of food deserts in densely populated areas, where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited.
They can be constructed with minimal space and integrated into existing buildings and rooftops, leading food oases in areas where access to fresh produce was previously limited.
Vertical farming enables the production of healthy food options in places where only unhealthy options are available.
It also eliminates the need for lengthy transportation and storage, resulting in more affordable and nutritious food options for low-income families.
Indoor Vertical Farming: Is There Any Future?
Forecasts about the future of agriculture often highlight the potential of vertical farming to play a significant role.
As technology in agriculture continues to advance, farms are becoming increasingly sophisticated, enabling farmers to increase production, reduce pollution, and address future challenges.
As these developments continue, vertical farms are expected to become even more advanced, incorporating cutting-edge technologies, such as robotic monitoring and harvesting, AI-powered CEA systems, and more.
Thus, vertical farms will likely become more prevalent as we work to meet future challenges.
While vertical farming presents a promising solution to many of the challenges facing agriculture today, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Some crops may not thrive in this environment, and other growing methods will still be necessary.
However, vertical farms can play a key role in addressing food insecurity by enabling the production of fresh and healthy foods in areas with limited food production capacity.
They can also help farmers to grow crops regardless of the effects of climate change by utilizing Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) systems that can replicate different climates.
Additionally, vertical farms can produce a higher yield of food in a smaller space, thus helping to feed a growing population.