Vertical Farming Systems: The Future of Agriculture
In the next 30 to 40 years, 10 billion humans will have to feed themselves on less water, less land, and expensive distribution systems. The challenges of feeding our world require more efficient ways of growing healthy food. Fortunately, although require farming is an old industry it's an innovative one. Get ready for the next generation of farming, vertical farming.
Additionally, vertical farming is an important part of answering the questions and solutions in my Environmental Hypocrisy: Are We Doomed?
Historical Precursors to the Modern Vertical Farm
Although vertical farming is something that sounds new, technically its not. Babylon is one of the early pioneers of agricultural technologies. The hanging garden was built almost 3,000 years ago and is considered by some to be the earliest example of vertical farming. The vertical refers essentially to the method where the plant grows upward to maximize growth area.
Despite being an ancient wonder of the world there is a myriad of ways civilization has manipulated their environment to improve agriculture. One thousand years ago, Aztec societies introduced a method of hydroponic agriculture.
What is Vertical Farming Today?
Vertical farming is in part a solution for three big challenges facing the farming industry:
Limited land to grow on
Limited access to a clean abundant water source
Expensive Operation, Transportation & Distribution costs - Cost is the keyword.
Vertical farming is exactly what it sounds like it is, it's the technique of growing plants indoors stacked on vertical racking systems.
Unlike traditional farms where the crops are arranged in rows spread throughout vast areas, Vertical Farming places rows of crops above one another in what is commonly called “stacks”. A key benefit to indoor vertical farming is its space—more space.
This simple technique of going vertical means more crops can be grown in a smaller footprint, which increases crop yield, and decreases water consumption. Vertical farms are a great solution to empty warehouses and other buildings sitting vacant all over the planet.
Controlled Environment Agriculture
With vertical farming growers are practicing a form of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) which means they control the indoor environment resulting in near-perfect growing conditions for every crop grown. No more concern over whether or not severe weather conditions will wipe out an entire yield.
The key is being able to grow a diverse number of crops in one facility. In its modern form, CEA is an agricultural form characterized by where conditions can be controlled to suit many different plant requirements.
Automation is crucial for vertical farms, it ensures that crops are consistently provided with the care they need. Lighting, irrigation, and fertilization all can be automated.
Some farms use conveyor belts that slowly roll racks of plants by tall walls of windows that flood the plants with natural lighting for a specifically programmed period of time.
No doubt there are still a lot of creative new innovations that haven't hit yet but eventually will.
Like a T-Stat
Similar to smart thermostats in homes in which rooms are set to different temperatures, today smart farming enables different levels of humidity, heat, lighting, and nutrients to be controlled. Different plants will grow together on the same facility but their individual environments are customized to their own specific requirements.
Space and Time
Vertical farming systems differ based on the requirements of the enterprise or farmer.
Vertical farms generally exist in large facilities with room for high-capacity vertical growth. There are even proposals for large-scale commercial farming to be placed on container ships.
Whatever the situation a farm must be big enough for all grow units are successfully cultivated so there is ample room for the plants' growth room, water supply & irrigation, storage, handling, and worker spaces.
Vertical farming provides farmers with better product production, uses fewer resources, and reduces travel expenses because it locates operations near the consumer's point.
You can grow any of the following three types all year long. All of these systems use less water and allow faster growth and higher yields than traditional soil-based growing systems
Three Types of Vertical Farming
Hands down hydroponics are the most commonly known and utilized type of vertical farming. I have used hydroponics to grow strawberries in my greenhouse and once the setup is finished it's easy to maintain and grow with.
Done correctly hydroponically grown plants grow faster and produce higher yields than traditional methods. However, it does require regular measurement of nutrient levels, temperature, and dissolved salt content (salinity), to ensure these factors meet the plants' needs.
Hydroponics is a soilless growing method where the roots of the plants are suspended, typically with a soft ring, in a water-based nutrient solution. The solution is circulated in an uninterrupted fashion providing plants with a consistent stream of nutrients year-round.
2. Aquaponics or Barrelponics
Aquaponics is a method of growing plants that combine both hydroponics and aquaculture.
Basically, aquaculture is farming in water; breeding, raising, and harvesting fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants. This method of farming can be done on a large scale such as in the ocean or in substantially-sized containers of water.
The key to aquaponics is using the nutrient-rich wastewater from the fish side as fertilizer for the plant side. In turn, the bacteria in the plants clean the water which is then pumped back into the fish side. Pretty clever, right?
Barrelponics is basically the residential form of a commercial aquaponics system. It utilizes three 55-gallon barrels, two of which have been cut in half. Just like with bigger setups one barrel holds the nutrient, the two halves hold the plants, and the third vertical tan houses fish.
Aeroponics is a sophisticated type of hydroponics, where the plants are grown suspended in a closed/semi-closed mist environment. The plants are commonly grown in a medium called rockwool.
Rockwool was originally intended used as fireproof/soundproof insulation. It is made from spun fibers made from melted molten rock. It prevents the growth of any bacteria proving a completely sterile, aerated grow medium. The plants' roots are placed into the holes provided in the medium and then their roots are continuously sprayed with a nutrient-rich solution.
Floraflex Pumps is a retailer of Rockwell and the below excerpt directly from their site best describes the product.
"As a growing medium, rockwool soaks up all the nutrients and water that you put into it to hydrate your plants’ roots, then dries out before the roots become oversaturated. The quick-drying material prevents disease and mold growth so long as you don’t overwater it.
Rockwool growing medium is one of the easiest to work with, especially with FloraFlex’s perfectly sized cubes for your hydroponic growing containers. When using rockwool grow cubes, remember to soak it in a pH balancing solution with your nutrients before removing the wrapper and inserting it into your container."
All of these systems and their creative solutions result in faster-growing, healthier plants, with bigger yields — It's worth noting again that all of this is accomplished while using fewer resources than ever before.
A New Local Food Source
Vertical farming is an ideal source for providing fresh healthy veggies and leafy greens to grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, classrooms, and many other establishments.
Imagine running a grocery store and your daily delivery of fresh produce is transported from only a few blocks or miles away from your store.
The reduction in transportation and distribution costs is dramatically cut when the source and destination are within the same neighborhood. Decentralization is the way forward.
Is Vertical Farming Profitable?
Industry research reveals that the prime cost of growing vertical is approximately three times that of traditional farming. Prime cost is the cost of something calculated by adding the construction, manufacturing, and labor costs together but does not include operating costs.
This makes sense because the initial costs of setting up include but are not limited to a building(s), racking systems, environmental controls, plants, and all of the mirid of parts and pieces that come together to get a vertical farm up and running.
Increased Output Equals Increased Income
Although setting up a new vertical farm is more expensive it offers the ability to at least double the yield. The utilization of automation, the use of natural light, the reduction of water usage (by as much as 90%), and considerably shorter distribution routes all contribute to increasing profits.
Now is the Time
The best time to start or invest in a vertical farm is right now. As energy and transportation technologies become cheaper so will the operating cost of vertical farms. Big economic players are counting on it and are pumping a considerable amount of money into it.
Recently over $200 million have been injected into the vertical farming systems market by financial players such as Aero Farms, Bright Farms, SoftBank & Vision Bank.
According to Allied Market Research, the vertical farming market size was valued at $3.24 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $24.11 billion by 2030, registering a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate of 22.9%.
The demand of a growing population and the ability to increase yields and grow 24/7/365 makes vertical farming an attractive financially viable investment.
Jobs in Vertical Farming
Job opportunities in vertical farming are increasing at about the same rate as the farms themself and will continue to increase as more farms are put into production.
There are basically five jobs in the vertical farming industry which include;
This is a fast-growing industry with awesome job opportunities and is perfect for individuals who enjoy working with plants or have technical skills that would be applicable in the food niche. Jobs are being created all of the time and now is the time to be looking for vertical farms in your area.
In the future, we may be seeing vertical community gardens grown vertically in living soils that will feed all of us. Check out these posts for more information on these topics:
Join us in our quest at blendedtribes.com to save the planet one kilowatt, one therm, one vertical farm (aka a 'Better Choice') at a time. You will be joining a group of like-minded individuals with a common goal and a common purpose.
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