The world’s population is expected to cross 9.7 billion people by 2050. Feeding such a huge population will be a humongous challenge. On top of it, there is a daily loss of agricultural land due to urbanization and industrial development.
Recent statistics of 2015 reveal that one-third of the world’s agricultural land has been lost in the past forty years. The ever increasing food demand due to a growing population coupled with ever decreasing agricultural land has thrown one of the greatest challenges. One of the answers to this challenge can be vertical farming. Is it the future of agriculture? Is it the solution for food security?
Here, we try to understand how it can help out.
What is Vertical Farming?
It is the practice of producing food on vertically inclined surfaces. It produces foods in vertically stacked layers commonly integrated into other structures like a skyscraper, shipping container or repurposed warehouse.
This modern idea of based on Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) technology using indoor farming techniques. The technique involves artificially controlling temperature, light, humidity, and gases, making producing foods and medicine indoor possible.
It is similar to greenhouses, where artificial lighting and metal reflectors supply natural sunlight. The primary aim of this type of farming is to maximize crops output in a limited space.
Benefits of Vertical Farming
This type of farming holds a lot of promise and gives a visual picture of the future farm. There are a lot of benefits associated with it, in addition to having greater output from a small cultivation area. The following are some of the major benefits of this type of farming
1 Planning and Preparation for Future:
About 68% of the world population is forecasted to live in urban areas by 2050, and this growing population will lead to an increased demand for food. The efficient use of this farming can play a significant role in preparing the world for such a challenge. The problem will be aggravated due to a decrease in arable land.
2 Increased And Year-Round Crop Production:
It allows one to produce more crops from the growing area. Studies show that one acre of an indoor area offers equivalent production to at least four to six acres of outdoor capacity.
It is estimated that a thirty-story building with a base area of five acres can potentially produce an equivalent of 2,500 acres of conventional horizontal farming. It is also possible to have year-round crop production in a controlled indoor environment completely controlled by this type of farming technologies.
3 Usage of Less Water In Cultivation:
It allows you to produce crops with 75% to 95% less water than required for normal cultivation. It can, therefore, do wonders in arid areas and the Middle East.
4 Unaffected By Unfavorable Weather Conditions:
Crops in a field get adversely affected by natural calamities such as torrential rains, cyclones, tornadoes, flooding or severe droughts. These natural calamities are becoming increasingly due to global warming.
The chances that indoor vertical farms will feel the brunt of the unfavorable weather is very less. Thus the probability of getting a bumper crop harvest throughout the year is very high.
5 Increased Production of Organic Crops:
The crop cultivation will be done in a well-controlled indoor environment without using chemical pesticides. This gives us the option to growing crops that are pesticide-free and organic. The food safety standards are met easily.
6 Human and Environmentally Friendly:
The occupational hazards associated with traditional farming techniques is expected to be reduced significantly by Indoor farming. In this type of farming, the cultivators are not exposed to heavy farming equipment, diseases like malaria, poisonous chemicals and others. Since it does not disturb animals and trees inland, it is a great option for biodiversity.
Is Vertical Farming the Future of Agriculture?
You might have seen the rise of numerous innovations designed to improve our world. It is one such effort. Vertical farms are becoming an integral part of a rising influx of “urban agriculture”. The concept allows food to be grown closer to where a large population is based.
Now more and more people recognize the value of this type of farming. It’s got a ton of benefits, but you have to weigh those benefits against other factors to decide if it can take over the future of agriculture.
Many vertical farms are being established in homes, multi-storied buildings, warehouses, and specially designed constructions. In many urban areas, you can notice vertical farms are being constructed and used as the new rooftop garden. The main idea is to create a more accessible, economic, ecological approach to grow food and enable mass production of food items.
What Can be Grown in a Vertical Farm?
Staple crops, like grains and cereals, can be difficult to grow in closed, indoor systems such as a vertical farm. For example, wheat is not something that would likely thrive in a vertical farm.
Having said that, other tons of plants and crops flourish in vertical farms. The most common are leafy greens you consume every day like spinach, lettuce and kale because they grow quickly and produce large harvests without wasting much space. You can grow fruits and vegetables.
Other daily consumed vegetables can grow well in vertical farms if the environment is set up properly. Tomatoes and strawberries have long been a favourite in vertical farms. And many vertical farms today are also beginning to produce peppers, squash, and more.
Why Choose Vertical Farming over Traditional Agriculture?
AS you get to know more about it, you will understand that this type of farming has plenty of advantages over traditional agriculture. Hence it is fast becoming an attractive solution for food sourcing.
First, and the biggest pros for the common population towards this type of farming is – how little space is needed about the number of crops grown on farms. By producing so much food in so little space, you will be able to free up a lot of lands.
A popular US-based company has successfully developed a vertical farm that produces the same amount of produce as a traditional farm while only using one-tenth of the farm space.
Now the question arises, if you are already using that land for farming, why should you convert to this type of farming?
You might have seen certain crops can drain out the nutrient contents of soil. Hence they have to be rotated with other crops to reinvigorate the soil. In a few years, with the growing population, it will depend on how quickly that land might come into high demand for housing, urban development or energy production.
What Does it Take to Make a Vertical Farm?
Vertical farms are different from other at-home gardening and farming systems. Today, the vertical farms are large, commercial-scale food production sites. Some companies specialize in creating vertical farm systems, while others self-establish theirs. In both cases, it can be a large yet worthy endeavor. Here are the main components of a vertical farm, besides the plants.
1 Space –
The first step in establishing a vertical farm is finding and acquiring a large space. Finding a suitable place is a process, irrespective of whether an entrepreneur is doing the creation of the vertical farm or a government initiative. Although empty buildings are plenty all around, the real challenge is to identify the one which can be converted with minimum cost. Hence, one has to check for structural damage, damp, proper insulation, proximity to reliable power while shortlisting the space. You can have your own vertical farm in your metropolitan area.
2 The equipment –
A vertical farm needs a lot of support to hold the plants, which will take up the bulk of the space alongside the plants. You will require ventilation systems to prevent rot, fungus, and disease.
A heavy amount of artificial ‘grow’ lighting will be required in almost every instance. There will be a requirement of aeroponic or hydroponic systems to provide sufficient nutrients to the plants.
The watering systems will be very different from the traditional ones. You can use rotating racks on which the plants are held that alternate plants through aeroponic cycles.
If rotating racks is not feasible, then you can use a more traditional hydroponic method. In this technique, you can leave the plants in place and put them through ‘flood and drain’ cycles.
3 The labor –
In fact, human labor is considered one of the largest components of a vertical farm. Compared to soil agriculture, the amount of labor required for this type of farming is quite minimal. As you might know, human labor is currently one of the top expenses in maintaining a vertical farm. Lighting cost and the cost of human labor are almost similar. You can opt for LED lighting.
Though there are a lot of efficient systems and automation systems available for this type of farming. No matter how advanced machine monitoring is, human intervention is essential.
In other words, vertical farms still need a set of human eyes to watch plant health and potential machine errors. But all farms require at least some human help in their maintenance.
Future of Vertical Farming
Like anything else that uses technology, the future of this type of farming is likely to bring a lot of innovation. In the future, you can expect to see even larger-scale farms, greater efficiency, and more use of technology in this farming area.
There are already vertical farms in practice that allow high monitoring and control of these farms, even remotely. Advanced computer programs to apps can effectively control every detail like humidity levels, crop production, and existing technology. You can certainly expect to see greater accuracy and a greater influx of its use in the future.
Vertical farms and hydroponic growing systems(crops grown without soil) are much more common in urban areas across Asia and the United States. As time progresses, you can expect to see more vertical farms being established. Some regions will adopt these farms faster due to a better supply chain and some will be slow to adopt this method. But, eventually, they will gradually become more common worldwide and who knows, we may have vertical farming companies as conglomerates in the future.
The next big step will likely be in the overall energy consumption. Although still in the research state, many companies are developing energy systems for vertical farms that rely on solar energy or use solar energy to supplement power to the farms.