Vertical farming is certainly an attention-grabber. Touted as the solution to the global food crisis by its proponents, vertical farming has gained the attention of notable groups and individuals such as IKEA and the Sheikh of Dubai, who recently invested $40 million in AeroFarms, a vertical farming company. Plenty, an indoor farming startup based in Silicon Valley, raised over $200 million in 2017, while Google Ventures has invested 90$ million in Bowery Farming, another startup. But what is vertical farming, and is it really the groundbreaking solution that agriculture needs?
Vertical farming is an innovative method of agriculture in which crops are stacked in vertical layers and grown indoors. The growing process is largely driven by technology, and factors like humidity and temperature are monitored closely. This method not only lowers the requirement of water by a significant percentage, but also saves a considerable amount of space and soil. Moreover, food is produced much closer to the point of consumption, meaning that carbon emissions caused by transportation are minimized. As a result, growing times are reduced, land use area is diminished, and productivity is significantly increased. This has a significant impact on the farm’s carbon footprint.
Vertical farming relies on advances in hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics that can mimic ideal growing conditions and create high-quality, tasteful plants. One might come across vertical farms in the form of buildings, shipping containers, or even underground tunnels and mine shafts. Although these are the most common places that house vertical farms, there is no pre-set list of potentially suitable vertical farming locations. As vertical farming gains awareness and exposure, more and more places will be made suitable for this type of farming.
Nevertheless, it should also be noted that vertical farming has extremely high energy demand. Growing conditions of the crops are significantly facilitated by lightning, such as LED lamps, driving up energy consumption. In order to avoid this excessive and unnecessary pollution on the environment, it is advised that renewable energy is used to feed the energy demands of vertical farms. Otherwise, vertical farming could negate all of its environmental benefits.
Vertical farming possesses incredible potential as a means of increasing the efficiency of agricultural production. However, concerns over energy usage persist. Additionally, vertical farming is prohibitively capital-intensive, especially during startup. As such, a concerted effort on the part of institutional capital will be needed in order for vertical farming to make a real impact.
All things considered, vertical farming is founded on very legitimate concerns over food security. With a population that is growing exponentially, and a consistent decline in the area of arable land worldwide, there is no doubt that something must be done. Vertical farming has shaken up the field of agriculture, and attracted the attention of major financial players. If vertical farming companies can find innovative solutions to the energy question, vertical farming could result in a significant reduction in agriculture’s carbon footprint – and a very profitable opportunity for investors.