Vertical farming on the rise – is it the future of agriculture?

, Vertical farming on the rise – is it the future of agriculture?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion people, and feeding it will be a considerable challenge. Due to industrial development and urbanization, we are losing arable lands every day.

In 2015, scientists reported that the Earth had lost a third of its arable lands over the previous 40 years.

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We don’t know how much more we will lose in the next 40 years. Increasing food demand due to a growing population along with ever decreasing arable lands poses one of the most significant challenges facing us. Many believe that vertical farming can be the answer to this challenge. Is vertical farming the future of agriculture? Let’s find out!

Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers. It often incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, optimizing plant growth, and soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics.

Some common choices of structures to house vertical farming systems include buildings, shipping containers, tunnels, and abandoned mine shafts. As of 2020, there is the equivalent of about 30 ha (74 acres) of operational vertical farmland in the world.

The modern concept of vertical farming was proposed in 1999 by Dickson Despommier, professor of Public and Environmental Health at Columbia University. Despommier and his students came up with a design of a skyscraper farm that could feed 50,000 people.

Although the design has not yet been built, it successfully popularized the idea of vertical farming.

Current applications of vertical farming coupled with other state-of-the-art technologies, such as specialized LED lights, have resulted in over ten times the crop yield than would receive through traditional farming methods.

The main advantage of utilizing vertical farming technologies is the increased crop yield with a smaller unit area of land requirement. The increased ability to cultivate a larger variety of crops at once because crops do not share the same plots of land while growing is another sought-after advantage.

Additionally, crops are resistant to weather disruptions because of their placement indoors, meaning fewer crops are lost to extreme or unexpected weather occurrences. Because of its limited land usage, vertical farming is less disruptive to the native plants and animals, leading to further conservation of the local flora and fauna.

Vertical farming technologies face economic challenges with large start-up costs compared to traditional farms. In Victoria, Australia, a “hypothetical 10-level vertical farm” would cost over 850 times more per square meter of arable land than a traditional farm in rural Victoria.

Vertical farms also face large energy demands due to the use of supplementary light like LEDs. Moreover, if non-renewable energy is used to meet these energy demands, vertical farms could produce more pollution than traditional farms or greenhouses.

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