Public and governmental concerns over water usage, particularly for the yields of some agricultural crops, have increased due to ongoing droughts caused by climate change.
Innovations such as micro-irrigation and genetically-modified crops that require less water to grow and water recycling have all been tried as solutions but one of the most promising has emerged to be vertical farming which requires enclosed spaces to grow plants.
Underground tunnels, old mining shafts, and even cargo containers may seem like the least obvious places to grow crops, salads, vegetables and fruits, and yet many of these spaces are currently being transformed into vertical farms.
What precisely is vertical farming, and how can it influence the development of current agricultural practices?
What is vertical farming?
Vertical farming, commonly referred to as indoor farming, is the practice of cultivating plants indoors. Experts use Light Emitting Diode (LED) illumination and properly managed production and nutrition systems that serve as alternatives to sunlight and rainfall.
Vertical farming market
The value of the global vertical farming market was estimated at US$5.5 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach over US$25 billion by 2030. This growth is linked to the rising popularity of producing fruits and vegetables in what is referred to as a “sustainably responsible manner”. Moreover, the continuously growing population has led to an increase in demand for urban agriculture.
Largest vertical farms
Europe’s largest vertical farm has been constructed outside Copenhagen in Denmark with a total funding for this project, which was launched in late 2020, of 25 million euros. To recycle water, nutrients and fertilizers, this 7,000 sq. m. farm, with 14 vertical stacked layers of crop beds, makes use of sustainable energy and robotic technology in revolutionary ways. It has been designed to produce over 1,000 tons of produce per year which it is estimated will cover 5% of this Scandinavian country’s demand.
As a result of having full control of the growing environment, scientists can create the ideal conditions for plants’ development in vertical farming facilities. The farm can therefore provide fresh and nutrient-dense herbs and lettuces every day, all year round. Moreover, this output is free of pesticides and herbicides.
In the world
It is claimed that ECO1 holds the title for the world’s largest vertical farm, with an area of over 30,600 sq. m. The farm can produce over 900 tons of leafy greens per year, including spinach and arugula.
The process that allows plants to grow here utilizes 95% less water than if they were grown in open fields. Thus, people can buy pesticide- and chemical-free greens produced by the farm in local stores.
The benefits of vertical farming
Vertical farming is regarded as a very effective and environmentally friendly method of food production with some of the major advantages being:
Food can be cultivated close to cities since vertical farms require less land area
Because food can be grown within urban areas, supply chains are shorter which in turn means better food safety and quality because the less time the food spends traveling to customers, the more the nutrients are better preserved. Additionally, the transportation and handling costs are lower compared to open field farms.
Since vertical farms are not weather-dependent, they can produce fresh products throughout the year whatever the climate.
Automation is used to monitor crops and establish ideal growing conditions. To achieve the best results, these farms make use of high technology that allows experts to manage the temperature, humidity, and light and CO2 levels inside the farms.
Furthermore, vertical farms frequently yield more produce than traditional farms. For instance, plants from the largest vertical farm in Europe can be harvested 15 times a year while a typical field is harvested twice a year.
The future of vertical farming and why it hasn’t yet become a widespread solution
The biggest barrier to vertical farming is cost. While humanity receives water from rain and light and warmth from the sun for free, vertical farming requirescomplicated growing systems, software, and LED lighting all of which come at a cost.
Most vertical farms use fossil fuels to general electricity and thus they may be worsening rather than improving the climate change issue although there are some structures that use wind to generate electricity.
According to one study,vertical farms require, on average, 38.8 kWh of power for every kg of product produced, substantially more than typical greenhouses (5.4 kWh).
Another problem is the costly urban real estate that is required to create a vertical farm. In some cities, such as Melbourne in Australia, the cost of a square meter of land can reach US$3,500.
Nevertheless, the worldwide vertical farming business will gradually expand from US$5.5 billion in 2020 to nearly US$20 billion by 2030.
Vertical hydroponics farming: what exactly is this and how does it work?
Combining vertical farming and hydroponic gardening into one system is referred to as a vertical hydroponic system.
What are hydroponics?
The method of gardening known as hydroponics uses water as the main medium, rather than soil. To help crops to grow, nutrients are added to constantly flowing water and thus the plants grow without the need for soil by instead to using nutrient-rich water as the root system’s main feeding source.
What is vertical hydroponic farming?
Vertical hydroponic farming leverages the tried-and-tested concepts and practices of greenhouse production, thereby making it suitable for urban farming in a confined space. Indoor hydroponic farms grow crops vertically with the help of LED lights that are installed for each layer.
The plants on various strata are constantly irrigated with a nutrient-rich mixture during predetermined feeding intervals.
How vertical hydroponics work
In regions with limited space and water, building vertical farms is a logical solution and, if there is access to renewable energy, vertical farming becomes more eco-friendly. Such a practice can also revitalize abandoned buildings and generate jobs. Therefore, despite certain disadvantages, vertical farms are nevertheless worth taking into account and they definitely have a future.