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Is vertical farming the future of food production?

The agriculture industry is facing huge challenges. Limited resources, climate change and a growing population are making it increasingly urgent for us to find more sustainable ways to produce food.1  

Vertical farming offers a unique alternative to traditional farming methods and it has the potential to be 20 times more productive.2

What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is an indoor farming process, growing plants on vertically stacked surfaces under controlled conditions. This process allows farmers to optimise light, irrigation, fertigation and climate for different types of plants, so seasonal crops can be grown all year round.3

What are the benefits of vertical farming?

Vertical farming offers guaranteed harvests and reduces the industry’s environmental impact.4  Meanwhile, improving the supply of safe, healthy and nutritious food and minimising the miles involved in its distribution. Experts note vertical farming as a promising step forward in the challenge to feed the world’s growing population.5

The world's population is predicted to top 9 billion people by 2050.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of some of the benefits of vertical farming:

  • More productive: controlled conditions make vertical farming efficient and effective under any given climate, growing plants faster and producing seasonal crops all year round.6
  • Less energy consumption: fully automated indoor farming systems use LED lighting that will only become more sustainable as we develop better energy resources.7
  • Reduced mileage: Indoor farming brings food production closer to the consumer, reducing the mileage travelled.
  • Less water waste: indoor farming uses controlled irrigation systems, reducing water waste.
  • More nutritious: vertical farms reduce the need for pesticides and other toxic chemicals. They also allow farmers to experiment with growing conditions, in order to optimise the flavour and concentration of nutrients.8

Indoor farms use 95% less water and 99% less land than traditional farming.

What challenges oppose vertical farming?

One of the biggest challenges opposing vertical farming is the energy cost. The technology required to set up an indoor farm is expensive, with huge upfront costs. 

Vertical farming technology research gets government funding. Derby-based company Light Science Technologies are to get a share in £90million of UK Government funding allocated as part of its drive to get agriculture to 'net zero' carbon emissions by 2040.10

Further to this, while it is possible to grow almost any crop in a vertical farm, it is currently only cost-effect to grow leafy greens such lettuce and herbs that are high value and quick to produce.10

Vertical farming can be seen as a long-term investment, making it more attractive for people getting into the agriculture business for the first time as opposed to already established farmers.

Sources: 

1. http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6583e.pdf
2. https://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2010/12/11/does-it-really-stack-up
3. https://gpnmag.com/article/crops-suitable-for-vertical-farming/
4. https://gpnmag.com/article/crops-suitable-for-vertical-farming/
5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/way-will-vertical-farms-tackle-worlds-growing-food-crisis/
6. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-you-should-know-about-vertical-farming-4144786
7. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/grow-light-options-for-indoor-and-vertical-farming-4147429
8. https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/how-vertical-farming-can-make-you-better-eater/1069076/
9. https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkobayashisolomon/2019/04/05/investing-in-vertical-farming-five-take-aways/#67e10194355c
10. https://www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk/news/18991625.vertical-farming-research-gets-government-funding/?ref=eb
11. https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkobayashisolomon/2019/04/05/investing-in-vertical-farming-five-take-aways/#67e10194355c 

 

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