Just as the solution to urban sprawl is to build up, and move people into high-density apartments, so too does vertical farming offer a solution to a major problem. Society has more and more mouths to feed, but less available land to do so.
In response, some very bright minds had the idea to follow the lead of the cities and build farms up, and vertical farms were invented.
These things are so amazing to look at. If you ever get a chance to do a tour of one, you should, because you’ll get some amazing snaps for your Instagram profile. It’s literally wall-to-wall greenery.
And yet, despite vertical farms being so critical to our futures, there remains a mystique around them for a lot of people.
So, let’s take a deeper look at what vertical farming is, and has to offer.
What is vertical farming, exactly?
Put simply, vertical farming is when you stack crops on vertically inclined surfaces or shelving. Given the need to build the space for the crops, vertical farms are typically indoor environments of about the size of warehouses. However, increasingly vertical farms are also found on the side of high-rise buildings, as a way of getting even more out of the construction.
Because this is a different way to grow crops, vertical farms typically involve some different techniques and technologies to optimise plant growth. This includes artificial lighting, hydroponic or aeroponic systems, and climate control technology to provide optimal conditions for plant growth. LED lights are often used as they can be tailored to emit specific wavelengths of light that promote plant growth.
It goes without saying that it’s more difficult to set up one of these vertical farms up than it is a convention farm. However, there are significant benefits to doing so, above and beyond the more efficient use of limited space.
The benefits of vertical farms include:
1. Year-round production
Vertical farming takes place in much more controllable environments, and that means much more consistent crop production. By controlling the indoor environment, crops can be grown year-round, eliminating dependence on seasonal variations.
It also means that crops can be grown in areas less prone to natural disasters, so the risk that a crop will be destroyed and affect the food supply is adversely affected.
2. Reduced water usage
Because vertical farms use hydroponic or aeroponic systems, they have much lower water requirements than conventional farms. Essentially, the water is efficiently recycled within the system, reducing overall water consumption – which for Australian conditions, in particular, is a major sustainability win.
3. Reduced pesticide use
The controlled environment of vertical farms helps minimise pest and disease infestations, reducing the need for chemical pesticides. Not only does this make food production cleaner and safer, but it also means the produce is fresher.
4. Stronger local communities
Communities tend to rally around their producers. Vertical farms open the possibility that even the most densely packed inner suburbs can have their own farming output to collaborate on and feel community pride in. This also enhances the concept of a 15-minute city, where everything that you need is within walking distance of where you live, and it means that overall, food stocks need to travel less, saving emissions from transportation.
It's not the perfect solution… yet
Vertical farms do face some challenges when it comes to scaling to the point that they can feed entire populations. There are high initial startup costs, and these farms need a lot of lighting so have high power requirements.
There’s also a lot of technical expertise required, and for now, the number of farmers with these skills is relatively limited.
However, as technology continues to improve, skills continue to be developed and society becomes more aware of the benefits of vertical farms, they are going to become an increasingly large percentage of the world’s food production.