vertical farm

The UN predicts that the global population will reach 9.7 billion by the year 2050 and if this is the case, the global food production will need to increase by almost 70% in the next 29 years.

This is an enormous challenge, with supply shortages already common in some parts of the world. Rising temperatures, wildfires and more frequent droughts, all of which are results of global warming, have disrupted traditional farming methods massively, affecting the worldwide food supply chain. 

Additionally, border closures and national lockdowns as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have further limited people’s access to food, especially in countries hard hit by the virus. 

So what could possibly be the solution to this? How can we as a population increase our food production by 70% with everything that is going on that is making it move in the opposite direction? 

As the world starts to open back up, we have to turn to innovation, and one method which is fast-expanding is vertical farming. 


vertical farming person

This is where emerging start-ups around the globe are growing produce in indoor environments, with growing conditions that can be better controlled.

Unlike a traditional outdoor farm, vertical farming means that conditions are controlled so that lighting, irrigation, fertigation and climate can all be adjusted depending on the growth stage and crop type. This can create optimum growing conditions, removing room for error and essentially increasing efficiency.

Although indoor farming has been around for several decades, the advancements in low-cost LED lighting combined with robotics, AI and innovations is giving the industry the means to be cost-effective and therefore scalable.

It has potential to reduce pollution and water use, helping slow down climate change by being more sustainable. It could also reduce the reliance on food imports and traceability issues. The stacked production method means that food can be produced in smaller spaces, closer to where it's required. More importantly, food can be grown all year round, regardless of what the weather is like.

If you watch the Amazon Original, Clarkson’s Farm, you get a detailed insight into how running a traditional farm is already a mammoth task on its own. So much of it is unpredictable and this new method may transform the way food is produced. However, the major challenge that is obstructing its scalability is the high-running costs. Large scale lighting and ventilation requires large amounts of energy, alongside a huge capital investment to get these vertical farms up and running. 

Yet, industry experts are determined that with time, renewable energy sources will come into use more frequently, and with an ever-advancing tech industry, the costs have potential to be reduced.

Indoor farming also eliminates the use of pesticides which comes with many benefits. It's better for the environment and human health since the risk of water contamination is prevented, and a bonus is that it's in line with growing consumer demand for non-GMO produce.

vertical farming scale

Some of the companies undertaking this innovation and are worth reading about include: 

 

Plenty

Aerofarms

Square Roots

Farm One

Oishii

 

Though the industry is still young and companies are trying to figure out the right business model and techniques, it is hard to go against the fact that vertical farming does have the potential to transform food production around the world.

Despite the current high costs, indoor farming can become more accessible and affordable overtime, and field and indoor farming can work in conjunction to support global food demand in the future.