According to the United Nations, food supply is one of the world’s most pressing issues. The following statement from the World Bank sets the tone for the expected future of food supply around the world. “The world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. But climate change could cut crop yields by more than 25 percent. The land, biodiversity, oceans, forests, and other forms of natural capital are being depleted at unprecedented rates. Unless we change how we grow our food and manage our natural capital, food security – especially for the world’s poorest – will be at risk.”
Investing in agriculture technology is one of the most popular ways this problem is being tackled. All over the world, groups are working to create sustainable agricultural practices; which leads us to Vertical Farming. Vertical Farming is a technique that anticipates issues arising with usable land space and rapid urbanization. It uses high tech lighting and climate controlled buildings to grow crops indoors and upwards in layers to minimize ground space.
Vertical farms have grown particularly in cities where space is limited. In the United States, consumer food trends have been increasingly favoring local and organic. This incentivizes
vertical farms to pop-up in big cities, where growing crops might otherwise not be realistic. Due to the large quantity of crops that vertical farms are able to produce, city dwellers will be able to source their produce from local vertical farms right in their backyards. This growing method is appealing because it ensures that consumers are getting fresh produce that has not traveled for miles to reach the grocery store. The produce from most farms will not travel far past the city it is grown, which is far different from regular agriculture where produce may travel across the country before it reaches its final destination.
There are many benefits to vertical farming. The technology is able to grow crops using up to 70 percent less water, and can do so without soil. On average, outdoor farming has a 50 percent failure rate due to unpredictable events including weather and plant diseases. Vertical farming takes out the majority of those unpredictable events and is able to harvest most of what is grown. Using this controlled environment, farmers are also able to grow a batch of greens much faster than a regular farming cycle. Due to the layered setup of the plants, they are able to capture runoff water that would otherwise be lost to evaporation. It also removes greenhouse gas emissions that would have been caused by the transportation and machinery used to harvest crops.
Most vertical farms have focused on growing greens and herbs because they are the most time and space efficient. In the United States, vertical farming is catering primarily to healthy eaters looking to eat more greens. They are not growing grains, cereals, and other heartier diet staples because those plants weight significantly more. However, this farming technique is new and has lots of growth potential to be able to accommodate those heavier crops.
An example of a successful vertical farm is AeroFarms in Newark, NJ., which has been a pioneer for the Vertical Farm revolution. After installing infrastructure in an old steel mill, they expect to produce two million pounds of greens per year. This company has spent $30 million to realize this new style of green agriculture which promises produce free of pesticides and fertilizer.
Vertical farms are starting to trend in other cities across the world including Europe and Japan. Its immediate benefits include its scale, natural resource savings, and consistency. Many vertical farms have partnered with restaurants to serve their greens “farm-to-table style.”
One of the biggest issues with vertical farming is the cost of infrastructure. They use high tech lighting and climate control to grow produce with less water and soil than what would typically be needed. It can be expensive to install, and is not natural like sunlight and rain. Some vertical farms have failed due to the astronomical cost of electricity used to power the lights. Opponents and supporters of this trend realize that vertical farms take the nature out of growing produce, but is perhaps a step in the right direction for the future of farming.