More food on less land? Vertical farming is the answer.

22.09.2020
3 min read

Vertical farming has plenty of benefits. It could enable food production in an efficient and sustainable manner, save water and energy, enhance the economy, reduce pollution, pro-vide new employment opportunities, restore ecosystems, and provide access to healthy food.

Types of vertical farming

This type of farming has a lot of versatility to it. If you imagine some tall futuristic green structures, go ahead. But there is more to that.  

 •   The first type of vertical farming does refer to the construction of tall structures with several levels of growing beds, often lined with artificial lights. This often modestly sized urban farm has been springing up around the world. Many cities have implemented this model in new and old buildings, including warehouses that owners repurposed for agricultural activities.  

 •   The second type of vertical farming is much more trivial and takes place on the rooftops of old and new buildings, atop commercial and residential structures as well as on restaurants and grocery stores  

 •   The third type of vertical farm is that of the visionary, multi-story building. In the past decade, we have seen an increasing number of serious visionary proposals of this type.

It is, obviously, a great and innovative farming method (no matter which of the three you choose) but it does have its disadvantages. Such farms can be very pricey to build, and economic feasibility studies are yet to be completed. On top of that, pollination can be a problem (difficult and costly). Building such a farm involves higher labor costs. And, on top of everything - and this might be the biggest negative side - vertical farming relies too much on technology and one day of power loss can have devastating consequences.  

And yet, despite the disadvantages mentioned, the list of benefits seems to be even “heavier”: 

•   Reduction of food miles - reduces air pollution, improving people’s health, plus the less your food travels the less packaging it needs.   •   Potential repurposing of dilapidated buildings   

•   Creation of local jobs due to the fact that vertical farms do not need to be located on special lands far from the cities   •   Improved farm productivity: greater yields that come from smaller space  

•   No crop losses due to floods, droughts, overexposure to sun, and seasonal weather changes   

•   Reduction of water usage as conventional farms need more water   

•   Usage of renewable energy that leads to the reduction of fossil fuel consumption

How do you farm vertically?

Here are several modern cultivation technologies that can be used in vertical farming.

Hydroponics 
Has a soilless base that uses water as the growing medium. Such a base ensures rapid growth, eliminates soil-related cultivation problems, and decreases the use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Aquaponics 
Now this is a true wonder as it integrates aquaculture (a.k.a. fish farming) with hydroponics. In its essence, it is a symbiotic relationship between the plants and the fish. This technology uses nutrient-rich waste from fish tanks to “fertigate” hydropon-ics production beds, whilst the hydroponic beds clean water for fish habitat.
Aeroponics 
It is a variant of hydroponics that involves spraying the roots of plants with mist or nutrient solution. In addition to the hydroponics original benefits, it also requires even less water.

Increasingly popular vertical farming  

Urban agriculture has truly become a major trend. And it is not surprising as with that growth method, fruits and vegetables can be produced all year round.  

On average, the market volume for vertical farming is forecast to grow by 25% annually to more than US$ 6 billion by 2022. Such big growth could be attributed to many factors, one of them being urbanization.   

Urbanization is picking up speed massively. By 2050 two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. For comparison, in 1950, this figure was roughly one third.   

Just how much urbanization is speeding up can be seen from the amount of the so-called megacities. The number of megacities with more than 5 million inhabitants is forecast to grow by almost 37 percent to 104 by 2030.