With the World population set to reach 9.8 billion in 2050 according to the United Nations and thanks to ever-changing climate conditions already reducing the amount of fertile land, we need to start finding more sustainable farming solutions to help feed the growing population. Thankfully Vertical Farms, one of the latest trends in agriculture could be one of those solutions.
What are Vertical Farms?
Vertical Farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers indoors, aimed to optimise plant growth and often incorporate soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics. With climate change and weather took out of the equation, and thanks to state-of-the-art technologies, such as specialised LED lights, Vertical Farms can produce consistent, high quality and quantity yields year-round all with minimal waste and lower CO2 emissions compare to traditional farming methods.
Can Vertical Farms Replace Traditional Farming?
The aim of indoor Vertical Farming is to produce more crops whilst using less space thanks to a controlled environment. As with any innovation, it has its benefits and drawbacks.
Reliability: because crops aren’t dependent on the weather or climate change, there is no such thing as a “seasonal crop” because it’s all done in a protected, well-monitored and managed environment. This means it can be done automatically, bringing assurance and peace of mind for growers.
Optimal use of space: because their stacking grow systems allow them to expand upwards, it’s possible to achieve higher productivity on a small land area, making them perfect for cities.
Less water: the Hydroponic growing process only uses about 10% of water compared to traditional methods. Furthermore the water is clean after usage, allowing it to be recycled and reused, reducing costs and waste.
Chemicals/Pesticides are gone: seeing as the farms are indoors, pests cannot enter the controlled environment to cause crop damage and because humidity levels are monitored, fungal diseases struggle to develop, making crops healthier and safer!
Transport costs: because vertical farms can be put in place closer to towns, the crops don’t have to travel as far to reach supermarkets, reducing transportation costs and carbon emissions.
Less pollination: although there are many benefits to having crops in a controlled, indoor environment, it does however completely hinder the pollination process, meaning cultivators will have to consider manual pollination, often know for being intensive and extravagant.
Disrupting the community: vertical farming can disrupt entire communities that are dependent on agriculture. Given the many benefits it comes with, Vertical farming can easily make conventional farming obsolete and dated. So, families who are currently living below the poverty line or are currently on the poverty line are likely to suffer the most from this mode.
Costs: Building vertical farms in expensive cities will increase total investment and operating costs. Moreover, approving the construction of vertical farms may increase the cost of occupation due to additional need. These farms also demand a lot of energy, because of the artificial light being used.
Vertical Farms Projects
Because of their growing popularity, more and more vertical farms are starting to appear, here a 2 of the biggest in the world:
AeroFarms is one of the most acclaimed vertical farming companies, recording more than $130m in investments since its launch in 2004.
The farmer uses its own patented aeroponic technology, which provides higher levels of precision and productivity, with little environmental impact and minor risk.
Based in New Jersey, US, AeroFarms claims its methods use 95% less water than standard arable farming.
Launched in 2015, Bowery is one of the fastest-growing start-ups in the sector, having raked in more than $140m worth of funding.
The New York-headquartered company, which supplies several restaurants, uses zero pesticides and non-genetically modified seeds in its operations.
Bowery Farming claims its methods use 95% less water than traditional agriculture and are 100 times more productive on the same amount of land.
The bottom line is that vertical farms are without a doubt an incredible technological innovation with amazing potential. Although they promise some amazing advantages over traditional farming, there are still a few drawbacks that will need to be ironed out for them to become the future of agriculture.