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Vertical Farming: Building Integrated Agriculture

By Apurva

12th Jan 2020

By the year 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow by another 2 billion, and feeding it will be a great challenge. Due to rapid industrial development and urbanization, we are losing agricultural lands every day. Scientists believe that the Earth has already lost one third of its cultivation lands over the last 40 years.

It’s very difficult to predict how much more we are going to lose in the coming 40 years. Increase in food demand due to population growth along with ever decreasing arable lands imposes a huge challenge to us. Many believe that vertical farming can be the answer to this challenge.

What Is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is the practice of growing food on vertically inclined surfaces. Instead of farming on a single level, this method produces foods in vertically stacked layers commonly integrated into other structures like a skyscraper, shipping container or repurposed warehouse.

The artificial control of temperature, light, humidity, and gases makes producing foods indoor possible. The primary goal of vertical farming is maximizing crops output in a limited space.

How Vertical Farming Works?

The primary objective of vertical farming is to produce more foods per square meter. To achieve this goal, crops are cultivated in stacked layers in a tower like structure. Also, a combination of natural and artificial lights is used to maintain the optimum light level in the room. Various technologies like rotating beds are used to improve lighting efficiency in the area.

Instead of soil, aeroponic, aquaponic or hydroponic growing mediums are used. Coconut husks and similar non-soil mediums are very common in vertical farming. The vertical farming method uses various sustainability features to offset the energy cost of farming. Vertical farming uses 95 percent less water than conventional farming.

Advantages of Vertical Farming

  • Preparation for Future: By 2050, around 80 percent of the global population is expected to live in urban areas which will lead to an increased demand for food. Vertical farming may perhaps play a significant role in preparing for such a challenge.
  • Increased and Year-Round Crop Production: Vertical farming enables us to produce more crops from the same square footage of growing area. Additionally, year-round crop production is possible in a controlled indoor environment which is completely controlled by vertical farming technologies.
  • Less Use of Water in Cultivation: Vertical farming allows us to produce crops with 70-95 percent less water than required for normal cultivation.
  • Not Affected by Unfavorable Weather Conditions: Crops in a field can be adversely affected by natural calamities such as torrential rains, cyclones, flooding or severe droughts. Indoor vertical farms are less likely to feel the brunt of the unfavorable weather, providing greater certainty of harvest output throughout the year.

Limitations of Vertical Farming

  • No Established Economics: The financial feasibility of this new farming method remains uncertain. The cost of building skyscrapers for farming, combined with other costs such as lighting, heating, and labor, can easily outweigh the benefits we can get from the output of vertical farming..
  • Difficulties with Pollination: Vertical farming takes place in a controlled environment without the presence of insects. As such, the pollination process needs to be done manually, which will be labor intensive and costly.
  • Labor Costs: As high as energy costs are in vertical farming, labor costs can be even higher due to their concentration in urban centers where wages are higher, as well as the need for more skilled labor.
  • Too Much Dependency on Technology: The entire vertical farming is extremely dependent on various technologies for lighting, maintaining temperature, and humidity. Losing power for just a single day can prove very costly for a vertical farm.

Conclusion

While the vertical farming market continues to make inroads in the developed economy. Japan has seen the most success of any country. Japan already boasts 200 large-scale “farming as manufacturing” plant factories, and China has another 80.

Vertical farming technologies are still relatively new. Companies are yet to successfully produce crops at scale and make it economically feasible to meet the growing food demand.

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