Home / Industry / Vertical Farming Increases Efficiency of the Agriculture Sector

Vertical Farming Increases Efficiency of the Agriculture Sector

by | Jun 30, 2022 | Industry, Sustainability




Why do we need vertical farms?

For thousands of years, humans have farmed lands for food. The sharp rise in people population, the industrial revolution, increased standard of living and falling mortality rates have put pressure on traditional farming to increase yield. However, the process of cultivating land has stayed pretty much the same except for equipment and machinery.

Meanwhile, everything has gone through changed in our world. Hence, the way we grow our food is also going to have a radical change to meet the ever-growing demands and try to mitigate all the pressing effects of human activity on the planet. The world is facing immense pressures from population growth to global warming.

Today roughly 7.9 billion people are living on the planet. This number is expected to reach 10 billion by the year 2050. According to the United Nations, the population growth will require food production to almost double within the next thirty years alone. But that is not the problem, we already produce more than enough food to feed the entire population.

The challenge is that traditional farming is not efficient. A lot of the crops harvested go to waste. The agriculture sector also uses a staggering amount of freshwater. In fact, 70% of fresh water available on earth is dedicated just to growing crops. The agriculture sector wastes a lot of water and has a part of the responsibility for the water crisis the world is facing.

Further, growing crops required a large amount of arable land. We consume a large amount of food and throughout human history whenever we wanted to produce more food we simply cut down forests or plowed land to make room for more farms. The issue is that we are running out of arable space to exploit.

While modern machinery has enhanced production rates, more than 11% of the world’s total land area is now used for crop production and with a lot of environmental costs. The agriculture industry creates environmental challenges ranging from habitat clearing to soil degradation. It has also placed immense pressure on our planet’s resources.

We have already cleared an area that is around the size of South America to grow the necessary crops needed. Also, the area used to raise livestock takes up roughly the size of the entire continent of Africa. Hence, increasing the food supply through expanding available farmland is not a viable option.

Also, the land that is capable of growing crops is quickly disappearing due to the effects of climate change. Climate change is a contributing factor that has led to the loss of one-third of all arable land across the world. On top of that climate change is devastating the food supply around the world.

Climate change is affecting nutrients in foods. And if we cannot afford the nutrient-rich foods that we humans need, this can affect our abilities. Also, in traditional farming, produces are grown using a lot of chemicals that affect the environment as well as water. On top of that farmers are at the mercy of weather conditions.

Furthermore, the distances between farming land and the populations who consume the produce raise significant challenges. Traditional produce has to travel thousands of miles before reaching the end consumer. And farmers also have to meet standards for shipment as well as standards for consumption.

So, in order to cultivate more food in less space new approaches to farming are needed. So with the global population expected to surge and more than 70% of that will live in cities, growing crop indoors seem to be a viable solution. Hence, sheltered from weather conditions and with the ability to grow acres worth of produces inside of a basketball court, vertical farms seem to be the answer.

What is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming could be the solution to increase the efficiency of agriculture and is already receiving some major success. It is the practice of producing food on vertically stacked surfaces. It involves growing food inside a building. Foods can be grown in such unlikely places as old factories, abandoned warehouses, shipping containers or industrial buildings.

Instead of farming on single horizontal levels such as a field or a greenhouse, layers of crops are vertically stacked upon each other. Vertical farming is a real thing and it has already reached the commercial level. Scientists and engineers around the world believed they can grow anything on vertical stack shelve.

Vertical farms use a mix of sensors, robotics, data analytics and automation to grow food in a highly controlled environment. The process makes produce fresher, tastier and better for the environment. The vision to build farms in cities all over the world will allow everyone to have access to fresh nutrient-rich food all year round.

Importance of Vertical farming

With vertical farming, grow rooms and greenhouses can be combined into one warehouse-sized structure. The growing population of the world means that there is not enough land for agriculture. With more people living in cities, upright farms will allow farmers to grow more food and decrease the amount of land needed for agriculture.

engineer monitoring crops in a vertical farm using tablet
Photo by ThisIsEngineering: pexels.com

In vertical farms, produces are stacked on several floors and what better is that everything is fully automated and protected from drought, frost and storm. Since it doesn’t require large acres of land, facilities can be constructed in city centers thus reducing transportation costs and time. It can also bring some fresh air to our concrete jungles and a good path toward green city.

Cities are home to more than 55% of the world’s population and it is expected to reach 70% by 2050. Hence, farmlands are far from the major point of consumption and food has to travel long distances before arriving at the supermarket shelve. Also, farmers have to respect a lot of strict regulations so that the produces remain in good condition during transportation.

Vertical farming on the other hand can be settled in major cities without disrupting the surrounding. And because produces are grown close to the point of consumption, vegetables reach supermarket shelves within 48 hours after being harvested thus preserving their freshness.

Increasing food production by growing food in cities will also help cut down on transportation costs. Every industry knows that last-mile delivery is the most expensive part of the supply chain. Using indoor farms in cities will enable farmers to save money and reduce food shortages. And since farmers can cut down unnecessary costs, produce can be cheaper.

Vertical farming will benefit cities well being. It will help improve air quality, which is a major concern in industrial neighborhoods. Also, growing plants in control environment reduce water consumption by up to 95%. Upright farms are more than 300 times more productive per square foot than field farmers.

And unlike traditional farms, indoor farms don’t depend on seasons or weather conditions, meaning they have more predictability when it comes to harvest. These farms are also resistant to extreme weather conditions and averting the need for pesticides or fungicides are just some of the benefits of vertical farming in cities.

Vertical farms eliminate the need for pesticides. Pests cannot enter the controlled environment and fungal diseases can’t get a foothold. Humidity levels can also be monitored closely, which results in healthier food and clean leaves. Indoor vertical farms use culture beds isolated from the soil.

These beds are pumped with nutrient solutions. This is then distributed to the plants by a high-automated irrigation process. The nutrient solution is rarely removed from the culture beds, following a closed-loop system. Usually, the nutrient solution is discharged back into the environment only when certain ions cannot be absorbed by the plants.

Using technology allows growers to better understand plants than anyone ever in the history of farming. With the collection of data about crops, scientists know the spectrum of light and humidity needed to increase nutrients in the plant. Data improve quality, taste and texture as well as enables farmers to become better farmers.

There are dozens of benefits to urban agriculture. Smart sensors monitor several factors including temperature, carbon dioxide, oxygen, lighting and humidity. It can also provide insights into energy expenditure for closed systems. In addition, smart sensors help determine how to best extract the heat from a vertical farm.

Adding technology around crops is not replacing the growers but it’s making the growers more effective. What’s even better is that there is no need for heavy machinery and equipment that consume a lot of fuels and emit a lot of pollution. And since everything is automated, there is also no need for a large workforce to maintain a vertical farm, only a handful of skilled workers.

The food industry is the largest source of organic food waste which can be used to generate electricity and gas. Vertical farms in cities could run off the methane gas generated by the food industry. In addition to reducing the carbon footprint, the technology could produce sufficient methane to power urban vertical farms without needing electricity from the grid.

two engineer using touchscreen to monitor crops in a vertical farm
Photo by ThisIsEngineering: pexels.com

LED technology makes seasonal changes possible by changing the color of the light. LED lights can increase food production by 20 to 25%. The technology can also be used to rotate the beds to ensure the desired light levels are available from all angles. Additionally, advanced LED bulbs can reduce heat and reduce energy consumption.

Another benefit of vertical farming is the increased efficiency of space. It can triple or even quadruple yield as compared to the output of traditional farmland. They can be customized to meet the needs of individual urban dwellers. By using contemporary building materials and energy systems, vertical farms can reduce energy costs.

As the urban population grows and the planet gets warmer, outdoor farming becomes riskier. In response, high-tech vertical farms are springing up around cities worldwide. MIT’s Open Agriculture Initiative is an example of high-tech vertical farms. AeroFarms and Square Roots are two other high-profile vertical farming companies.

Indoor farm yields are higher than conventional greenhouses. And various techniques can be used to improve conversion factors, such as interplant lighting, upward lighting and the use of reflectors. Besides, vertical farms can be built anywhere in an urban area, making it more convenient for local consumers to get their fresh produce on a weekly basis.

Those benefits will lead to healthier food for everyone as well as benefit the environment. The safety of food is another consideration. Indoor farms generally produce food safer than their counterparts in open fields. And not only it can produce healthier products but it can also save millions of tons of CO2 every year.

Future of vertical farming

As the population continues to grow and cities expand, we must shift our food production patterns to sustainable levels. Vertical farming plays a crucial role in food production and is expected to continue to grow across the globe. In fact, cities may be able to produce a substantial amount of food for 60% of their urban population.

However, even if some companies have reached commercial levels, vertical farming is still an establishing market. Various surveys showed that consumers generally accept indoor vertical farms and are willing to purchase from them. Moreover, its perceived sustainability is a good indication of the growing concern of consumers over environmental performance.

These studies show that the benefits of indoor farms are more than just cosmetics. This technology may even be the solution to many food safety and sustainability issues. According to Statista, the vertical farming market was USD 5.5 billion in 2020 and it is expected to reach USD 8.5 billion in 2022. This number is estimated to reach USD 20 billion by 2026.

The technology used for vertical farming can greatly increase the productivity of farming. The crops can be grown in a highly controlled environment, reducing the need for pesticides. Because of the controlled environment, fungal diseases and pests cannot survive. In addition, water consumption is also reduced and virtually no water is wasted.

Water can be reused, waste can be repurposed into compost and organic waste can be used for electricity and vertical farms can pave the way for a circular economy. And with advances in solar energy, indoor farms can be completely independent of grid energy. Soil substitutes and other materials can be used to improve crop yields.

Growing food indoors will make urban living more efficient and there is no need for large amounts of land. It can increase food density per square foot of farming space. They can even be erected in high-rise buildings. Vertical farms can be set up anywhere in the world and they use a fraction of the water that conventional agriculture uses.

Aside from providing food, vertical farms are also capable of providing seasonal food all year long. And there is no need to employ a lot of workers or use heavy machinery and long-distance transportation which reduces the cost of operation and thus reduces the price of produces.

With the global population set to exceed 10 billion people by 2050, the challenge of providing enough food for everyone in a sustainable, efficient and cost-effective way is rising in significance. Shedding the restrictions of seasonal weather patterns, overcoming transportation challenges and significantly enhancing yields, vertical farming could herald the future of food production.