30 Jan Vertical Farming Takes Off: Innovation for Food Production
For several years, the sustainability of the food production system is being questioned. Is it possible to provide food for a population that is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050? According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), that means to increase global agricultural production by 70 %; definitely a great challenge for innovation. But there are more, such as reducing water consumption intended for food production, overcoming the problems arising from the impact of climate change and desertification, the reduction of ecological footprint and CO2 emissions from the production and distribution of food, or the assimilation of the increasing concentration of population in cities. For the pioneers of the vertical farming, the solution is the agriculture in large buildings .
The concept of vertical farming is not new. The biologist of the Columbia University in New York Dickson Despommier, also the author of The Vertical Farm ( Mr. Martin’s Press, 2010), defends its utility since 1999. However, they were the technological advances and the growing public concern about sustainability issues which gave the final push to the idea.
Although not all projects are the same, in general, they apply hydroponic agriculture, a method for growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions instead of agricultural land. They use software systems that handle the distribution of nutrients between plants or regulate light exposure, and energy saving methods such as LEDs or renewable energy sources. Some of them even plan to reuse saltwater.
Moreover, unlike the case with outer crops , this model reduces the use of pesticides , fungicides and herbicides , which improves the safety of foods, additionally produced closer to the consumer and on a large scale, regardless of weather conditions. With respect to the variety of crops, many vertical farms are turning to rotation to diversify their offer while occupying the same space.
One of the first commercial projects of this emerging industry is Sky Greens in Singapore. Jack Ng ‘s company sells vegetables produced in vertical greenhouses in a densely populated country where the population has poor access to fresh and local produce, as explained in the video below.
Similarly, this year in March, the company from New Buffalo, Michigan, Green Spirit Farms plans to open a store of 3.25 hectares in Pennsylvania, which will house 17 million plants. And the list goes on. Also in the United States, Farmed Here from Illinois reuses an old factory space of over 8,300 m2 to produce arugula, basil, and sweet basil vinaigrette, while in Sweden, Plantagon is building a vertical farm in Linköping .
Vertical farming also has detractors who rely on the economic, energetic and environmental costs of these projects, arising from indoor conditions that require vertical farms to produce crops. They also argue that transportation costs do not have such a high impact on the final price of the food to make vertical farming, with its high cost, profitable.
But vertical farming seems underway. Will the farmers of the future be indoors? Is this a labor camp to pay attention as some rankings about future professions point out?