Vertical Farms: Great Potential But Not Free from Challenges
One of the most talked-about technologies that can disrupt traditional agriculture is the concept of vertical farms. With over 1 billion US dollars raised in funding, this sector is looking to accelerate rapidly as feeding the global population becomes a great challenge for humanity.
The largest investments in vertical farms have been seen in the United States. Plenty, a startup based in San Francisco, has already raised over 400 million US dollars. Other large investments have gone to the aeroponic farming startup Aerofarms (238 million US dollars) and Bowery Farming (167.5 million US dollars).
Outside of the United States, vertical farming is prevalent in Europe in the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands. Similarly, in Asia, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and China are increasing both adoption and investment. However, practitioners and businesses are facing a number of challenges ranging from energy costs to intense labour requirements. If vertical farms are to be made successful, we cannot ignore the challenges at present.
Major Features of Vertical Farms
For vertical farms to work, there must be a good installation and interaction between various components. These components include temperature, humidity, lighting, nutrients, and fertiliser control, along with physical layout and sustainability practices.
One of the major objectives of building vertical farms is to increase the amount of production per unit area. Typically, vertical farms consist of a stacked layer of crop-growing structures. These structures are typically key in controlled environments created by artificial heating, cooling, and lighting.
Since our major objective is to emulate the natural process of photosynthesis, we must be mindful of the spectrum. It is a no-brainer that we cannot generate the expected amount of output from vertical farms without proper lighting conditions. On the other hand, without proper lighting design and optimisation, the cost of running vertical farms can go over the roof. The most common lighting systems include fluorescent lights, high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights, and more efficient LED lights.
Temperature and Humidity Control
Since vertical farms operate in artificially designed environments, temperature and humidity control are a crucial part of the puzzle. If lighting produces the necessary amount of heat, separate heating equipment may not be that important. However, cooling systems like an air conditioner might be necessary even for dehumidification.
Nutrients and Fertilisers Control
Depending on the technique of growing, the process of releasing nutrients to the plants might be different. For example, in hydroponic growing systems, we suspend the plant roots in nutrient solutions. Similarly, you require a pump that sends nutrients to the solution on a timely basis. On the other hand, the aeroponics growing process requires the plant roots to be suspended in the air. You must nourish the plants by misting the root zones with the nutrient solution using a sprayer.
Major Challenges for Vertical Farms
The primary challenge to the success of vertical farms at present and in the future is the energy costs associated with it. Indoor vertical farms rely upon artificially designed climatic settings that aim to emulate natural environments. These include lighting systems, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and air circulation control systems, and fertigation systems, pumps, and motors. Depending on the size of the farm, energy requirements can quickly go northwards. Moreover, they are also a major cause of the huge upfront cost that comes with building vertical farms.
Maintaining Consistent Growing Conditions
Maintaining consistency throughout the growing space is also a major concern for vertical farms. Since plants are placed tightly, we cannot expect that all plants will get the same growing conditions. For example, obstruction of airflow can be caused by plants themselves while lighting sources can increase their temperature. Similarly, if the vertical spacing is low, effects such as these get magnified.
Operating vertical farms can be labour-intensive, especially if it is a large farm. Although automation is finding its way deep into this sector, there must still be inspection and maintenance. Besides, there is always the requirement of loading and unloading compartments in multiple stacked layers.
Limited Amount of Crops
Due to the physical layout of vertical farms, the types of crops that can be grown are limited. Most commonly, indoor vertical farms produce leafy green vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, rocket, kale, etc. Similarly, in the herbs section, we grow basil, mint, chives, rosemary, etc. These types of farms are suitable for crops that cover less area and thrive in an upward direction.
Why the Success of Vertical Farms is Crucial
Since vertical farms are costly and require heavy research, it might not be an attractive investment for an average person. However, as we tackle hunger amid a growing population, it can be a great weapon for countering these problems. The major advantages of vertical farms for sustainable food production are:
Reduced Water Consumption
As we put a major focus on tackling the problem of global hunger, we cannot ignore the depletion of water resources. Agriculture is the largest consumer of global freshwater, accounting for up to 80% of the total use. With vertical farms, water use can go down easily by more than 90%. Techniques such as drip irrigation can make very economical use of available water. Similarly, in hydroponic and aquaponic systems, water reuse is a very sustainable feature.
High Output in Less Area
Even though the types of crops that can be grown are limited, the output per unit of area is still greater than traditional land-based farms. On the other hand, this reduces the devastating act of clearing out forests for creating arable lands.
Reduced Pesticide Use
When we put a major focus on the quantity of food to be produced, we cannot ignore the quality aspect of that produced food. One of the great advantages of vertical farms is that they can significantly reduce the use of pesticides. This means that we need not chemically pollute natural soils, which can disrupt the biodiversity in that region.
Low Post-Harvest Loss
We need not store post-harvest products from urban, vertical farms over a long period of time. Similarly, since they are produced near the markets, that eliminates the need for long hours of transportation.
Wonders of the Tech World with Topworldbusiness
In this blog, we came across the recent news of vertical farms and how they are becoming an attractive option for investors and new entrepreneurs. We saw some statistics regarding the amount of investment in the United States and some other countries in Europe and Asia. Likewise, we talked about the major features of standard vertical farms. Similarly, we looked at the greatest challenges involving energy, labour, and limitations in types of crops. Finally, we closed out with the necessity of the success of vertical farms if we are to combat global hunger.
Top World Business is a one-stop place for all the technology news from every corner of the globe. Our aim is to keep you updated on recent and future tech trends so you can use them to your advantage. Contact us if you have any further queries.