Vertical farming promises a green revolution designed for the future. But how are vertical farms different from conventional agriculture?
The global population will grow by 3 billion by 2050 and it is projected that 70% of people will live in urban areas. The demand for food will grow substantially; in fact, the world will need to grow more food in the next 35-40 years than the previous 10,000 years combined. Countries will have to figure out how to bring food directly to consumers in the most effective way.
The solution to this could be vertical farming – the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked farms. These produce crops much faster while using 40% less power, creating 80% less food waste and using 99% less water than in the outdoor fields.
How is vertical farming achieved?
In recent years, sustainable food production in cities has attracted a lot of interest and attention. Vertical farming requires less space for food production and it enables food production close to urban areas in a safe and clean way. For example, such farming methods can use empty buildings, even skyscrapers, to revive abandoned neighbourhoods. Interestingly, a few companies in Detroit, MI, already make use of the city’s unoccupied warehouses to grow vegetables which are then sold to the local community.
Urban farms use soil-free growing techniques and no pesticides. The biggest difference with these farms, however, is that the food grown in the vertical farm does not use any natural daylight, only intensive LED light. Naturally, all aspects are monitored: from the amount of “sunlight” and water to the type of substrate. This way the food can be grown in the safest and cleanest way possible.
Global and fast-growing
Urban farming market is expected to be worth $17 billion by 2026. China, whose population is predicted to reach 1.5 billion in 2030, is investing heavily in vertical farming as more and more people are moving to the cities. In addition, an affluent middle class demands different, clean and fresh food.
Furthermore, the urban farming sector is growing fast in the US, too. Currently, the total US fresh fruit and vegetable industry is worth $104 billion and is predicted to grow. Japan, in the meantime, is anticipated to hit $5.8 billion by 2022 with its vertical farming developments. The country can boast 200 large-scale “farming as manufacturing” plant factories, whereas China has 80.
There have been some large-scale projects announced in the UK in the past year. For instance, Shockingly Fresh, an Edinburgh-based startup, is set to develop 40 sites and already has on in Scotland and four in England. Ocado, an online supermarket, has also invested around $20 million in the sector. What is more, it has taken a 58% stake in Jones Food Company which produced 420t of leafy greens each year.
Benefits of local production
Local production and vertical farms have great benefits. They can settle anywhere no matter the climate conditions while farmers settle where the best natural conditions for food production are. It is said that food produced with traditional agricultural methods travels around 2000 miles before it reaches our tables. By reducing the travel miles, we can positively impact travel costs as well as CO2 emissions. It is visible when transporting fresh foods whose preservation produces much carbon footprint. Also, vertical farms diminish overall CO2 output by a staggering 67-92% compared to conventional greenhouses.
In addition, local production improves crops freshness, reduces agricultural waste and enhances traceability. In other words, vertical farming offers to reduce the industry’s environmental impact and make the world cleaner.