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Vertical Farming Will Cultivate a More Sustainable Future

by | Mar 11, 2022 | Sustainability, Utopia




The global population is set to exceed 10 billion people by 2050 meaning there will be more mouths to feed. Hence to be able to sustain this growth, food production must be increased by at least 70% by 2050.

To make matters worse, more than 80% of the world’s land that is suitable for agriculture is already in use. The challenge of providing enough food for everyone in a sustainable, efficient and cost-effective way is significantly rising.

For thousands of years, humans have farmed lands for food. But with the sharp rise in the number of people on the planet over recent centuries, increased living standards and falling mortality rates have put enormous pressure on traditional farming activity.

While modern techniques have enhanced production rates, more than 11% of the world’s total land area is now used for crop production. Which creates environmental challenges that range from habitat clearing to soil degradation and placing immense pressure on the planet’s resources.

Furthermore, as more people lived in cities now, the distances between suitable farming land and the city’s populations who consume the product raise the impact of transportation.

Adding to these challenges is a changing climate that is disrupting seasonal weather patterns and the lack of suitable soils near rapidly expanding areas. A solution is needed to tackle all these problems!

Shed from restrictions of seasonal weather patterns, overcoming transportation challenges and significantly enhancing yields, the growing trend of vertical farming shows potential for a sustainable future of food production.

What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is a system of growing food without soil or sun. As the name suggests, it refers to the practice of producing food on multi-level surfaces or selves vertically in a closed and controlled environment.

Foods are produced in vertically stacked layers inside buildings, shipping containers or warehouses. Vertical farms are modular and can be adjusted to fit building specifications. Environmental factors are created using artificial light, fertigation systems and environment control systems.

Why vertical farming is becoming important?

The agriculture industry is facing a lot of challenges, from trying to keep up with the changing markets to climate change. Rising temperatures and more frequent droughts caused by global warming are making traditional farming methods increasingly inefficient and unpredictable.

The agriculture sector also produces a lot of greenhouse gases and uses a lot of pesticides. The industry also consumes a lot of water where most of it is wasted or absorbed by the earth.  

vertical farm inside warehouse with pink artificial light
Photo by Petr Magera on Unsplash

And to make things even more challenging, it is estimated that around 70%  of the world’s population will be residing in urban areas by 2050. Adding to the problem of a larger population, there is a scarcity of land that can be used for agriculture.

As more people are born, there is a need for more places to live. Hence there is less farmable land today because of industrial and urban development. Furthermore, the industry has also been hit hard by the pandemic.

Hence to make the agriculture industry more sustainable, it needs to use less water and chemicals and also crops must be less vulnerable to climate change. Vertical farms can be the answer as growing conditions can be controlled and better managed.

Impact of vertical farming

Indoor farming technology is a fast-growing market that was valued at $14.5 billion in 2020 and is estimated to reach $24.8 billion in 2026. Indoor-grown crops can be yielded all year as external weather condition does not affect the process.

Natural calamities such as torrential rains, cyclones, flooding or severe droughts, which are becoming increasingly frequent with climate change do not affect the crops. Not just natural calamities but also human-created problems like pandemic and war does not affect vertical farming.

This provides greater certainty about the output and markets are not affected throughout the year. And as it recreates environmental factors indoors, seasonal produce can be available at any time of the year.

This system also utilizes 70% to 95% less water than traditional cultivation. Not to mention the world is faced with a water crisis. Crop yields are also pesticide-free and more organic as they are in a controlled environment and do not need to be protected.

Hence, as less water is needed and crops do not need pesticides, it is better for the environment and human health. It also eliminates the risk of water contamination.

Furthermore, the amount of crop that 4-6 acres of land would have produced with traditional agriculture can be produced in about 1 acre in a vertical farm. Hence more food can be grown in a smaller area.

Traditional harvesting uses a lot of machinery and has to travel long distances by truck, ship or plane to reach your plate. But indoor farming produces only travels a few miles to reach grocery store shelves as it can be set up anywhere in an urban area.

Hence, this eliminates fuel-intensive machinery and long-distance transportation. This can also reduce pressure on logistics and distribution as the world is facing a supply chain crisis nowadays.

Imagine when you go to a local supermarket, you can pick up freshly harvested vegetables and fruits that were cultivated at a local farm only hours before you arrived. This process can also produce only the amount needed and eliminate food waste and rot.

Hence it allows humans to be prepared for the future with the continued population growth and land scarcity. The vertical farming market was estimated at $5.5 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $16.32 billion by 2025.

The future of vertical farming

Feeding an ever-growing population in a feasible, affordable and sustainable way is without any doubt the most severe problem the world will face in the future.

Traditional agriculture will continue to produce the majority of our crops needed for the coming decades as the vertical farming industry is still in its infancy.

However, to be able to sustain all the human pressure the earth is facing, solutions are needed for all the ever-changing communities and needs.

As we move away from outdated food practices toward more sustainable methods of growing crops, technology can provide solutions, fill gaps, and strengthen the food production and consumption infrastructures of the future. 

With technology, a lot of data are produced. Hence, the indoor farming company can know the amount that needs to be yielded for specific crops. But things do not stop here, as with data the producer can also know what crop people love most and what sells best.

Beyond providing fresh local produce, vertical agriculture could help increase food production and expand agricultural operations according to demand and population growth. It has also the potential of bringing food production closer to areas where access to healthy and fresh produce is low.

And if a company wants to increase yield all that is needed is staking more layers instead of more acres. As usual, the future depends on the rate of technological advancements and automation progression.

The benefits of vertical farming are evident but more developments are needed as the technologies the industry use are still relatively new. Many technologies used in indoor agriculture do not have a long commercially proven record and studies are still being conducted to ascertain the impact of these technologies on the shelf life of plants.

Hence, in the future, there is an opportunity to develop fully automated urban farms based on vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture.