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How Vertical Farming Reinvents Agriculture

Akshay Shetty

The threat of providing food for everyone in a cost-efficient and sustainable manner is gaining importance. The global population will exceed 10 billion by 2050. Modern tools and techniques have enabled to augment production rates. However, crop production still employs 11% of the total land worldwide. It creates a scarcity of resources and adds to the ever-growing problem of global warming. Defying the odds of seasonal weather patterns, transportation challenges, and indigent yields are the method of vertical farming. So, what exactly is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is a concept that sees the sprawling crop farms condensed into small size factory-like sites. The conditions are optimized, and yields get significantly enhanced. Facilities like Aero Farms in New Jersey is a prime example of vertical farming. Crops get cultivated in a contained environment. Everything from temperature and lighting to soil conditions and nutrients is controlled. Vertical racking of crops enables organisations to optimise space and establish such facilities in urban areas. It also allows to deliver it to the end consumers abruptly and efficiently.

What are the benefits of vertical farming?

Vertical farming enables organisations to optimise the usage of space. This, in turn, allows them to decrease transportation cost & time. The lower time of transport helps to cut down the CO2 emission caused due to long hours of transportation. Furthermore, the high degree of control of various aspects like temperature, humidity, lighting, nutrients, etc. neutralises the risk of waste due to changing weather conditions and enhance production rates. It also eliminates losses from birds and insects. There is no need of using harmful pesticides too, improving the quality of the yields. The use of energy-efficient lighting leads to lower power consumption lowering the cost of production.

Moreover, many vertical farms are served by the rainwater harvesting system. It reduces the amount of water used to produce those crops. Some organisations even recycle the water lowering the consumption of water even more. Additionally, plants grow faster in such controlled environments when compared to traditional farming. This approach of having a controlled environment prevents nutrients and fertilisers from damaging the land or getting washed into rivers lowering the impact on the environment.

A drawback to vertical farming is the availability of land in urban areas. But companies are tackling this issue by building such facilities in repurposed shipping containers, abandoned warehouses and old factories in proximity to the urban areas. Another set down, as believed by many experts, is a large amount of energy used to grow crops in such a controlled environment. So, companies are recycling resources and using energy-efficient technologies to grow plants.

Lead by example!

Vertical farming is a growing concept. Several companies have sprung up over the past decade using different models to cultivate crops. There are a few models which companies use. Firstly, hydroponics in which crops grow in a nutrient-rich basin of water. Secondly, aeroponics wherein crop roots are sprayed with a mist containing water and nutrients periodically. And lastly, aquaponics where organisations breed fish to cultivate bacteria used as nutrients for plants.

Plenty, a San-Francisco based startup is one of the most talked-about company in vertical farming. The company received funding of $200 million in investor funding. It is the highest agricultural technology funding in history. The company doesn’t use any pesticides to grow its products. It adopts towers made of recycled plastic that’s fuelled with water and nutrients through the top using gravity to feed plants. It enables the company to reduce power consumption and recycle water easily.

Aero Farms, a New York-based company has one of the most extensive facilities for vertical farming, occupying a space of 70,000 sq ft. The company claims to use 95% less water than traditional farming. Aero Farms use the aeroponic method of vertical farming. Their in-house scientists monitor more than 130,000 data points for every harvest.

Another such company is Jones Food Company in the UK. They have Europe’s largest vertical farms occupying a space of approx. 54,000 sq ft. and over 17 stories high. Crops at Jones Food Company grow hydroponically. The company claims that it will be able to deliver 420 tonnes of plants per year once the farm reaches full capacity.

What’s in it for the Hospitality Industry?

The hospitality industry trends keep changing rapidly. With sustainability being the primary goal, vertical farming can prove to be a blessing in disguise. Many restaurants like Weilands-Wellfood, based in Berlin and Good Bank have their in-house vertical farming setup. The customers can see the whole process of farm to plate. Moreover, there are companies like Farm.One catering specifically to chefs around the world. The company currently caters to 14 Michelin star restaurants providing high-quality ingredients from herbs to edible flowers & microgreens. Vertical farming can help provide restaurants & bars with high-quality ingredients throughout the year consistently. It means no more waiting for those seasonal garnishes or ingredients.

Additionally, restaurants can provide their customers with better quality food due to no pesticides involved. Locally sourced items are much healthier, fresher and in high demand amongst the consumers. Bars & Restaurants will be able to diversify their menu through the easy access of ingredients from around the world.

Vertical farming still represents a small portion of global food production. However, the benefit it offers to the ever-growing population can shift the paradigm of farming to 90 degrees!

Akshay Shetty