With many mouths to feed and rural areas increasingly becoming urban centres, the amount of land available for traditional agriculture is dwindling. Hence, traditional agriculture must evolve to meet the global demand for food.
In 2050, the world’s population is projected to double in size, which means farmers will be required to produce twice the amount of food required today with less of the land available today.
One of the innovations trying to remedy this is Vertical Farming.
WHAT IS VERTICAL FARMING?
Vertical farming is the practice of producing food on vertically inclined surfaces. Instead of farming vegetables and other foods on the ground, such as in a field or a greenhouse, this method produces foods in vertically stacked layers commonly integrated into other structures like a skyscraper, shipping container or repurposed warehouse.
Vertical farming uses indoor farming techniques. Temperature, sunlight, humidity and other conditions necessary for growth are controlled artificially.
HOW DOES VERTICAL FARMING WORK?
There are 4 critical areas essential to the success of a vertical farm. They include Physical structure, lighting, growing medium and sustainability features.
Physical structure: Most vertical farms use enclosed structures similar to greenhouses that stack vertically, either directly above each other or staggered for better natural light exposure. The objective of indoor farming is to maximise volume.
Lighting: Optimising light for crop growth in vertical agriculture usually involves a mixture of grow lights and natural light. Grow lights are often LED lights which are cool, efficient lights you can put close to the plants. They are very efficient at making plants grow and you can control plant growth very well.
Growing Medium: Instead of soil aeroponic, aquaponic or hydroponic growing mediums are used. Aeroponic involves frequently spraying crops with a nutrient-based mist, using a periodic timer (no soil, sunlight, or water).
Aquaponic involves a closed-loop food production system, aquaponics is the practice of cultivating both fish and plants. The fish provide nutrients and beneficial bacteria to the plants, which in turn filter the water for the fish.
While in hydroponics, crops grow in the nutrient-rich water basin and water is recirculated, creating better efficiency and lower water consumption.
Sustainability features: Many built-in sustainable features like rainwater tanks, wind turbines, and multipurpose spaces can offset energy costs in a vertical farm. Vertical farming uses 95 percent less water.
WHICH CROPS CAN BE GROWN?
Not all crops can be grown using this method as some crops like rice and wheat need larger growth space than available in a vertical farm. Some of the common crops grown in vertical farms are tomatoes, lettuce, and leafy vegetables.
It offers a plan to handle future food demands
It allows crops to grow year-round
It uses significantly less water
Weather doesn't affect the crops
More organic crops can be grown
There is less exposure to chemicals and disease
It could be very costly to build and economic feasibility studies haven't yet been completed
Pollination would be very difficult and costly
It would involve higher labour costs
It relies too much on technology and one day of power loss would be devastating
Vertical farming has had huge commercial success with the largest vertical farm capable of producing 10,000 lettuce head in a day. However, this method isn’t without its critics but it is a welcome innovation, one that is already changing the way we farm.