For years many have wondered if vertical farming is the answer to food shortage in the world. Industrialisation and urbanisation is reducing arable land that would be utilised for food production. Furthermore, as population grows, so is demand for food. However odd the concept of vertical farms might seem to many startups, it is a creative solution to producing food in environments where arable land is unavailable or limited. Vertical farms are convenient in environments such as urban centres and big cities where population is large hence a ready market for fresh produce.
As the name implies, vertical farming means growing fresh vegetables and herbs in pockets on stacked levels. This means you can cultivate loads of plants -using a very small floor or ground area. So, even with limited space, you can grow enough to support and supply local market. This is the ideal urban solution to growing leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and amaranthus and non-tree fruits like tomatoes, brinjal and strawberries without using much space. These are grown in vertically stacked layers made of PVC pipes resembling a multi-storied building of plants. The plants are grown in a controlled environment under artificial lighting either in a building and polyhouse on rooftops or open land.
Less space, more yields
Vertical farming can assist in achieving maximum yields. First, plants only need about 10 minutes of darkness a day. Getting light all day long allows the plants to grow faster. Also, traditional farmers usually apply fertiliser once, water the crop and hope it grows. Fertiliser application is adjusted to optimise plant growth. Since the growth of crops is not climate dependent, vertical farming guarantees more harvesting cycles throughout the year. For instance, some fruits and vegetables may have up to 20 harvests in a year rather than four or five. This means that consumers do not need to wait longer for produce to be “in season.” Also farmers do not need to worry about spoilage due to weather conditions, which enables maximised production.
Crops in stacked layers
The primary goal of vertical farms is to produce more food per unit area. To achieve this, crops are grown in stacked layers in a tower life structure. Every square metre of floor space of vertical farming produces approximately the same amount of vegetable crops as 50 square metres of conventionally worked farmland. Instead of soil, aeroponic, aquaponic or hydroponic growing mediums are used. Peat moss or coconut husks and similar non-soil mediums are very common in vertical farming.
Of course, vertical farming has limitations. For example, the start-up cost to get a facility up and running is quite exorbitant and could be a deterrent to many prospective vertical farmers. labour costs can be even higher due to their concentration in urban centres where wages are higher, as well as the need for more skilled labour. While traditional farms rely on natural sunlight, vertical farms rely on energy that comes at a cost.
Vertical farms will not replace the traditional farms however, as the population continues to grow, and more emphasis is put on environmental sustainability, vertical farming can help to fill that void. Vertical farms have demonstrated that they offer a plan to handle future food needs because the crops are grown year round and are not affected by weather. The returns on investment are incredible, they can eradicate foodborne diseases, maximise crop yields, and reduce water consumption.