Vertical farming – an overview
Have you ever wondered what would happen to the food supply if the human population kept growing exponentially? Yes! The answer is, eventually, we are most likely to run out of food, as the growing population would need shelter, which would come from the agricultural space being cut down, leaving us little room to grow food. However, it might not be the case as advancements in agriculture are constantly being made, and one of them is known today as 'vertical farming'.
With this post, we set out on a goal to disseminate information on many aspects of vertical farming in an easy-to-understand format for everyone out there.
To begin, let us first understand what vertical farming encompasses:
Science behind vertical farming and a glimpse of its past
Vertical farms, as explained by Professor Despommier, utilize growing trays stacked on top of each other with controlled nutrients, temperature, and light to enhance crop production per unit area. Unlike a typical farm, which requires a large amount of area, to begin with, followed by a watchful eye on climatic conditions, pests, and other factors, vertical farms can grow just as much food as a traditional farm under an auto-regulated environment.
Did you know that, while the name 'vertical farming' is relatively new, the concept behind it can be traced back to the garden of Babylon approximately 600 BC, when they were the first of their kind? Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and the necessity for a farm that is small, transportable, and in a controlled environment is the struggle of mankind against rising food demand.
There are mainly three kinds of vertical farming systems:
- Hydroponics: The soil-less growing system includes submerging the plant in the flowing concoction of water and nutrients.
- Aeroponics: Developed by scientists at NASA, this technique requires spraying the roots of the plants with a mist containing necessary nutrients.
- Aquaponics: This intriguing technology is a variation on hydroponics that incorporates fish as well as plants. Indoor pools with healthy fish create nutrient-dense waste, which is fed to plants, where it is further filtered and recycled back to the fish.
Infrastructure of a typical vertical farm
Contrary to a traditional farm, a vertical farm includes several components that work together. We will go through a three-step process of setting up a farm and growing our favourite crop here:
STEP 1 – Establishing the facility by setting up the indispensable parts that make a successful vertical farm:
- Multi-layer growing shelves
- One of three growing systems, i.e., hydroponics, aeroponics, or aquaponics
- A steady flow of electricity
- Light source
- Continuous water supply
- Macro and micronutrients
- Climate control
STEP 2 - Once all the indispensable components are in place, the crop and growing medium will be selected. Then, finally, the growing shelves are stacked according to the maximum height of the selected crop. For example, certain herbs and vegetables like lettuce, are shorter in height; therefore, more trays can be stacked on top of each other, increasing the crop's yield.
STEP 3 - The last step before we can enjoy our fresh crop is to sow the seeds, adjust the water, nutrients, light, and temperature and wait for the delicious produce to flourish.
Why is vertical farming gaining popularity?
- The main benefit of vertical farming is that it provides enough yield in less space to fulfil demand by stacking layers of crops on top of each other.
- Because the farms are in a closed facility and are monitored around the clock, the usage of fertilizers and pesticides is little to negligible. All steps are taken to prevent contamination.
- Vertical farms may also be a one-stop shop for the speedy delivery of fresh food, as opposed to crops cultivated in fields where you need to travel great distances.
- Because vertical farms have no climatic or seasonal constraints, crops may be grown all year round.
- To nurture the plants, hydroponics employs flowing water with additional nutrients. This technology helps recycle and reuse the same water, resulting in considerable water savings.
- Traditional agriculture uses a lot of machinery to maintain and harvest the crop each season, and vertical eliminates the use of heavy machinery, thus reducing the emission caused by them.
Climate change and vertical farming
According to the United Nations, the world population has reached an amazing 9.7 billion, and it is expected to surpass 11 billion by 2100. Because our earth isn't getting bigger and seas occupy around 71% of the land area, humanity would have to start cutting more trees than ever before to feed such a large population. The heinous act of wiping out the green area for our food demands would cause misery for the animals that live there, as well as a host of different problems such as climatic change, soil erosion, drought, floods, and so on.
Vertical farming seems to be our step forward in halting further environmental damage. With this technique, it is possible to reduce the negative impact of agriculture on the environment.
A vertical farm will produce food constantly in any weather, around the clock, using significantly less water and space. It will also reduce air pollution caused by huge trucks transporting produce from fields to stores. Furthermore, since it is a soilless farming approach, it can recycle the majority of its water back to the following cycle, thus, saving a huge amount of water. Giant urban farming firms such as INFARM in Germany, Aerofarms in the US, and many others across the world have already demonstrated that this technology will be the evolution we need for future agricultural practices.
As we can see, this relatively new notion of producing food vertically opens up a plethora of opportunities for a country's food security and economic prosperity to flourish. Although there are various obstacles ahead to enhancing this farming approach, vertical farming appears to be a step forward into the multitude of wonderful things that the future holds, where food is abundant, and humanity exists in peace and sustainability with nature.
For more interesting articles on different aspects of vertical farming, keep checking this space.
By Swati Jagani | 23 August 2022
Swati Jagani residing in the charming German city of Stuttgart, holds a master's degree in Horticultural Sciences and Biotechnology. She is currently working as a researcher at the University of Hohenheim. Sharing her knowledge of the plant world through writing gives her immense pleasure. She is a researcher by day who enjoys working in a lab on experiments, and when she is not working, she loves to travel the world.
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