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Vertical farming is one of the upcoming methods that is gradually gaining popularity. Because of its versatility, high yields, and small space requirements, this type of agriculture is well suited to our 21st-century needs. It has been offering opportunities for crops to be farmed in big cities.
As a result of urbanization and industrial development, we are losing arable lands daily. Researchers discovered in 2015 that one-third of the world’s farmland had disappeared over the previous 40 years.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion, making it very challenging to feed everyone. With this estimated population, it is believed that Vertical farming will come in handy.
However, is agriculture’s future vertical farming? What are the advantages and disadvantages of vertical farming? What are the potential problems faced, and how can you start vertical farming as an individual or organization? Stick around as we explore every one of these questions.
What is Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming is the technique of cultivating crops in layers that are vertically stacked. Growing methods can be soil, hydroponic, or aeroponic. Vertical farms try to produce food in difficult environments, such as where arable land is scarce or unavailable. Using skyscraper-like designs and precision agriculture methods, the method assists mountainside towns, deserts, and cities in growing various fruits and vegetables.
To maximize natural light exposure, most vertical farms use enclosed facilities resembling greenhouses that stack vertically, either right above or spaced. When space is at a premium, using hydroponic methods instead of the soil allows for less weight and a 70% reduction in water requirements. Aeroponics further decreases the amount of water and weight needed. Most vertical farms use hydroponic or aeroponic growing methods instead of runoff, which would add weight to the potted plants.
Advantages of Vertical Farming
Although there are many and varied benefits to vertical farming, it is clear that this method yields the most with the least negative environmental impact and physical space. As resources become more scarce, maintaining food production using conventional methods will become more difficult.
1. Reduce Your Use of Water & Space.
Vertical farming methods allow farmers to use 99 percent less land and 98 percent less water. No LEDs or other inefficient energy sources are used to light our crops, only the sun. They can produce crop production that is 240 times higher than conventional farms by rolling or continuously harvesting crops all year.
80 % of the world’s population is projected to live in cities by 2050. This population structure will increase the demand for food in areas with limited land. Vertical farming provides a way to meet this increased need for food in these densely populated urban areas without the need for large fields.
2. Year-round Production rise
Additionally, massively increased production and year-round consistency are offered by vertical farming. Some fruits and vegetables are no longer only available during specific seasons. Instead, vertical farms can produce various crops all year with little reliance on weather or climate.
3. Less waste of resources
Crops grown on vertical farms have the potential to be grown without the use of pesticides if they are properly managed and harvested. A controlled environment is difficult for pests to infest, and fungal diseases can’t survive because humidity levels are kept in check.
Hydroponic vertical farms use a lot less water than conventional farms. Since the water is recycled, very little water is lost.
4. Decreased labor costs
Completely automated indoor growing structures and greenhouses can produce successfully throughout the year without requiring a lot of manual labor. Naturally, you still need staff to register crops and ensure the machinery is in good working order. Still, you’ll need fewer people to oversee the growing environment.
5. Transportation Costs Are Lower
A major advantage of vertical farming is growing crops closer to consumers’ homes. Produce is kept fresher and is more profitable when transportation costs, CO2 emissions, and the need for refrigerated storage are reduced.
6. Sustainable Compared to Soil Farming
Since less fossil fuel is required to power farming equipment indoors, it can be more environmentally friendly. In addition, solar energy can help reduce the environmental costs associated with high energy bills.
Because vertical farming does not disturb the land’s surface, it promotes the survival of the native animal population inhabiting farms and the surrounding areas.
7. Chemicals and pesticides are not used
Using a vertical farm to grow food could eliminate the need to buy pesticides. This is because you don’t allow pets in the controlled environment where you do your farming.
No farmer is exposed to the risks of using heavy equipment, thanks to indoor farming. Additionally, they are well protected from various illnesses like malaria, problems with harmful chemicals, and the like. This farming method is also a great way to promote biodiversity because it doesn’t harm the nearby trees and animals in inland zones.
8. Solution for Food Desert
Last but not least, vertical farms can address the growing issue of food deserts. In densely populated areas, where fresh foods like fruits and vegetables are scarce, these areas are known as “food deserts.” Vertical farming has already begun to create food oases where food deserts once existed because they can be built with a small footprint and even integrated into existing buildings and rooftops.
In places where there were only unhealthy options, this provides healthy food. It can also produce inexpensive and nutrient-dense food for low-income families because it doesn’t require a protracted shipping and warehousing process.
Disadvantages of Vertical Farming
1. High initial costs
The cost of vertical farming is high at every stage, from picking the best locations to picking the crops with the best yields. The initial upfront costs are typically significantly increased by land prices alone because of the high land cost in urban areas.
However, many vertical farms have reduced facility-related costs by utilizing pre-existing structures like shipping containers, disused factories, and vacant office buildings. As an alternative, vertical farms could be constructed on unusable desert land.
The expense of the equipment adds to the financial strain on many startups in vertical farming. Most vertical farms require pricey equipment like computers, water lines, shelving units, LED lights, and climate controls.
2. Managing a vertical farm needs advanced knowledge.
As only a small portion of people worldwide possess the advanced technological and horticultural skills needed to operate a vertical farm, it is not an easy job. To set up, run, and maintain a vertical farm, highly educated and trained individuals are required due to the high level of technology used in every stage of the production process.
For instance, installing the climate stations, lighting, and water recycling system requires automation and software engineers. Horticulturists, biologists, and maintenance engineers are also required to choose the best crops, monitor each stage of plant growth, and ensure that every piece of equipment is operating properly.
3. Fertilization problem
The transfer of pollen from one flower’s stigma to another, known as pollination, causes fertilization, which leads to the growth of seeds and fruits. The pollination process in outdoor farming is carried out by insects, animals, the wind, and other naturally occurring pollinators.
Vertical farming faces a serious problem with the absence of these pollinators that, if not addressed, could result in sizable financial losses. Poor fruit sets and pollination rates frequently produce small, crooked fruits. Hand-pollinating crops is an effective way to solve this problem on small farms. Still, it can quickly become a hassle in vertical farms that occupy millions of square meters.
4. Community Impact
Numerous economists have thought about yet another drawback, which is this one. One of the biggest problems with vertical farming is that it has the potential to have an impact on and even destabilize several communities that depend almost exclusively on agriculture.
Given its many advantages, vertical farming has the potential to render traditional farming obsolete and out of date. Therefore, it is likely that families who are currently below the poverty line or are already there will suffer the most from this mode.
Is Vertical Farming More Beneficial Than Traditional Farming?
Beyond conventional farming, we require solutions to feed our expanding population. Vertical farming is more productive per square foot than traditional farming and is dependable and efficient.
Significant amounts of organic and inorganic fertilizers are needed to preserve soil health and increase crop production using traditional farming techniques. The plants also need additional chemical inputs because they are susceptible to pests, illness, and bad weather.
Without using soil, vertical farms grow crops. There is no waste or runoff because water and nutrients are repeatedly returned to the roots of the plants. The environment is unaffected by the weather because it is self-contained.
However, the output from vertical farms alone won’t be sufficient to feed our rapidly expanding population. For our expanding global population, a more resilient, sustainable food system will need to be developed in collaboration with conventional farmers, modern farmers, and agricultural scientists.
How to Start Vertical Farming
Select the right crops for vertical farming.
Any crop you intend to grow will have a growth strategy designed specifically for it. The daily nutrient and light uptake requirements for each crop must be determined.
There are many more factors to take into account than there are in a standard hydroponic system. There is less opportunity for taller plants in this system type because many crops will be grown in layers.
Hydroponics and vertical farming are beneficial because you can produce all year long, save water, and make the most of your available space.
Pick a method for vertical farming
Different vertical farming techniques will be more or less appropriate depending on factors like crop type, business model, and location. Each approach has benefits and drawbacks. Remember that not every vertical farm model will be successful for you.
The most popular technique for vertical farming is hydroponics. Because it is both scalable in size and cost, hydroponic farming is incredibly adaptable to its farmers’ production goals and needs. It includes methods such as the wick system, drip irrigation, deep water culture, ebb and flow, and nutrient film technique. All of these are merely additional ways to hydrate your plants.
Choose a method for your vertical farm
Making the most of available space is the goal of vertical farming. Farmers must therefore increase crop production per square meter in this circumstance. The secret to finishing this quickly is planning the layout to best use the available space.
Grow lights can be used in conjunction with natural light sources by farmers. If that is insufficient, reflectors, rotating beds, or other methods of ensuring that all the crops receive the same amount of light for the designated period may be required.
There are drawbacks for South Africa in that our unreliable and expensive supply of electricity makes vertical farming potentially energy-intensive because lighting (and other electric-powered equipment) are crucial to crop yield.
Nutrients and water
The farmer must provide all the essential light, water, and nutrient requirements for the crops to survive and yield a high yield. The garden won’t be able to be maintained if this isn’t done correctly or in the right amounts.
To begin with, we used water pumps. However, a dependable power source needs to be connected to the pumps. Because load shedding can result in significant crop loss, connecting the water supply to water plants requires solar panels.
Put money into agrotechnology
Accept the novelty and the technology that come with this new, futuristic farming method! With modern farming methods, you can experiment in ways you never could with conventional farming methods.
Numerous new data, sensor, control, and software technologies can be used to optimize your vertical farm, track energy, water, and other material inputs, and examine the outputs of your crops. Staying current will require some effort on your part, but this is an exciting time to be in this field.
The cultivation of fresh vegetables could be revolutionized by vertical farming. No matter the weather or climate, layering crops in a controlled environment enables consistent production levels and quality throughout the year (or climate change).
To recap, if you want to start a vertical farm, here are the steps:
- Select the right crops
- Pick a method of farming
- Choose a light source
- Nutrients and water
- Invest in agrotechnology