Vertical Farming: What Is It, And What’s Fueling Its Growth?
Vertical farming, or urban farming, is becoming more prevalent in the agribusiness sector. Experts predict that almost 80% of the earth’s population will live in urban areas by the year 2050, so developing and maintaining sustainable supplies of fresh food in large cities is increasingly important–and profitable.
By cultivating plants inside a skyscraper greenhouse, utilizing natural sunlight and artificial lighting, vertical farmers are able to produce fresh food while minimizing land usage and transportation costs. Droughts, floods and other weather-related issues are a thing of the past, and a controlled indoor climate carefully regulates ideal growing conditions year-round.
Curious about opportunities in vertical farming? Here are 10 things you need to know about this growing industry.
History of Vertical Farming
1. Vertical farming is regarded as a fairly new concept, but the idea has been around for a long time. In 1915, American geologist Gilbert Ellis Bailey wrote a book called Vertical Farming, and while it mostly dealt with using particular types of soils to grow crops, the idea for today’s vertical farm was born from his theory.
2. The first practical example of a vertical farm dates back to the 1950s, with an attempt at growing cress indoors at a large scale.
3. In 1999, students in a university classroom were discussing the idea of rooftop farming to produce rice. Dr. Dickson Despommier then took the discussion to the next level: what if crops were grown inside buildings?
How Vertical Farming Works
4. Using Manhattan as an example, Dr. Despommier’s class estimated that one 30-story vertical farm could produce enough food for more than 50,000 people, and 160 such farms could feed the entirety of New York City.
5. The plants that thrive best in vertical farms are nutritious types of produce, like green veggies and tomatoes. Crops like wheat and rice will be more difficult to grow in a vertical farming environment because of the amount of biomass required for them to thrive.
6. Vertically farmed crops can be grown hydroponically or aquaponically (in water) or aeroponically (in the air), without any soil. The biggest need is for a light source throughout the farm. Typically, prototype vertical farms use a combination of natural and artificial light for photosynthesis.
7. Because vertically farmed crops are produced indoors, in a controlled environment, people would have access to locally grown fresh produce year round – no need to purchase imported fruits and vegetables or prepared or frozen foods during the winter months, when those crops typically aren’t in season.
8. Another benefit to vertical farming? Produce grown indoors is organic and chemical-free, as no herbicides or pesticides are required.
The Future of Vertical Farming
9. By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to swell to 9 billion people, and experts guestimate that 80 percent of them will reside in urban areas. As the population grows, there will be less land mass available for farmland and growing food.
10. The world’s largest vertical farm is scheduled to open in Newark, NJ, this year. Set up in an old steel factory, it’s estimated to be 75 times more productive than a traditional farm of a similar size, and it requires no soil and 95 percent less water.