Vertical farming: The Next Big Thing?

Theodore Robin
By Théodore Robin

Vertical farming is being hailed as a solution to the planet’s growing food shortage problem. Today, our planet has around 7 billion inhabitants. By 2050, that number is predicted to grow to close to 10 billion people. One argument in favour of developing this technique is that there are currently around 700 million individuals who suffer from undernourishment, although this number is rapidly decreasing. The fear is that there will not be enough arable land by 2050 to feed an additional three billion people, especially given the fact that most of this population growth will occur in Asia and Africa, which are struggling with the amount of arable land they have.

Vertical farming consists of growing crops on substantially sized shelves, stacked on top of one another in enormous warehouses. These are usually built in or close to urban areas. The idea is to grow crops closer to the consumers to save money and energy on transportation. Because the crops are grown indoors without any natural light, LED lights are used to enable the process of photosynthesis to foster the growth of the plants. Photosynthesis is the process of how plants grow using sunlight: they transform sunlight into chemical energy to fuel their needs. The advantage of this system is that the growing cycles are faster, more frequent and are not dependent on the weather or the changing of seasons. Plants grow all day long, regardless of the time of day, because the lights are always on.

The main reason vertical farming is increasingly popular is that experts see it as a solution to end food shortages and as a more efficient way to manage food supply. This is especially true in developing countries and nations that are experiencing rapid urbanization. Additionally, this system can also potentially solve the issue of land availability. Since crops are grown on top of each other, they use up less land space. This allows for more crops to be grown in one single location. The crops grown in vertical farms also have much higher yields than traditional farms because of the controlled climate, and because the amount of nutrients each plant receives is more heavily monitored. Yet another benefit of these farms is that they use significantly less water than a rural farm.

However, a major problem facing these farms is the high energy cost, mainly due to LED lights, which run all day long, as well the power needed for the climate control systems. Today, many vertical farms are struggling to make profits, not only because of the high costs of their energy use but also because they are still relatively small size. More research and study into the domain is therefore needed to utilize the benefits of vertical farming.

Header Image Credit: AeroFarms, Newark NJ

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