Agriculture is one of the most important pillars of the global economy. The vertical farming industry has been developing new and creative methods of growing crops under controlled conditions for more than a decade to ensure a productive and healthy harvest.
According to data from the United Nations Global Land Outlook report, at least 40% of the Earth’s land is used for agriculture, with more than half of that land degraded. Moreover, we are not on track to eliminate world hunger. Such a pessimistic diagnosis comes from the UN’s 2021 “State of World Food Security and Nutrition Report.” Growing needs to feed the world’s population, coupled with shrinking agricultural land, are among the most important problems facing the agricultural sector.
The situation is not improved by the fact that global crises and the effects of climate change are increasingly causing disruptions in the supply chain. This reduces the availability of fresh food for consumers and increases production costs for farmers.
The vertical farming industry is aware of these problems. Based on multi-level crop production, allows high yields while saving space. Such crop production can take place both in the hall and warehouse, as well as in supermarkets. This means that fresh food can be produced near consumers, thereby reducing the carbon world resulting from transportation.
In order to understand what is different between conventional and vertical farming methods, it is necessary to know what is behind these terms.
Conventional farming methods assume the use of soil and agricultural land. They use advanced agricultural machinery and chemical crop protection products to maximize yields and profits.
Vertical farming reinvents farming techniques. Crops are arranged in multiple tiers, one above the other, such as on growing shelves or in special towers. Crop production takes place mainly indoors, using systems that control outdoor conditions. Soilless cultivation methods are used for production.
One of the most important differences between the two production methods is the arrangement of the plants. When growing by traditional methods, plants are planted horizontally, over large areas of land. Vertical farming, on the other hand, is based on the vertical arrangement of plants, from where it gets its name.
Depending on the cultivation method used, the amount of space used varies. Conventional agriculture uses large tracts of agricultural land. Fertilizers, or crop protection products, are distributed to the fields by hand, or with farm equipment. Vertical farming, on the other hand, can be located in warehouses, halls, and vacant lots thanks to the vertical arrangement of plants. Automation and crop management software make it possible to produce any growth conditions for plants. Thanks to precise ways of irrigating plants, less water and chemical fertilizers needed for cultivation are used. The use of a controlled-atmosphere system guarantees a consistent yield, regardless of weather conditions.
Growing crops in the ground make it relatively easy and inexpensive to produce fresh fruits and vegetables, thereby reducing the need to import. However, in the off-season, access to local fresh food is severely limited. Fresh strawberries in Poland, available during the cold seasons, are imported from Spain, Serbia, or even Kazakhstan. With rising transportation costs and supply chain disruptions occurring, prices of imported goods are soaring, so they are less profitable for producers. Alternatives such as vertical farming allow for year-round and local crop production. Thus, they are a good way to diversify supply chains and ensure that consumers have access to fresh food year-round, regardless of weather conditions.
Conventional crops are often grown in open fields. Thus, they are vulnerable to pests and diseases. Plant protection products, known to us as pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides, are used to avoid this danger. This increases the risk of contamination of soils and groundwater with chemicals. Vertical plant cultivation is isolated from external conditions. Thus, it does not require the use of plant protection products. Closed circulation allows precise dosage of nutrient solution, which saves up to 95% of water in production.
The cost of building and maintaining vertical farms is still high, but depending on the size of the crop, the type of crop grown, and the financing model, the payback time is between 2 and 6 years. Investment costs are one of the biggest reasons limiting the potential for mass adoption of this type of cultivation method. Despite this, the potential for vertical farming around the world is very high, and the number of food producers and investors interested in it is growing every year.
Imagine going to your local store in the middle of winter and having access to fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Nothing unusual, right? Except that these products are free of harmful substances and were grown in your neighborhood – maybe even in an old warehouse next to your house. Their entire journey from the place of cultivation to your plate took place within a radius of just a few kilometers. Sound unbelievable? Nothing could be further from the truth! Vertical farming makes it possible to grow crops seasonally regardless of location and climate conditions. In addition, the ability to replicate any type of climate allows for the cultivation of multiple plant species. In this way, vertical farming can meet the growing customer demand for organic and local products…. Which, in addition, are very tasty!
Both conventional and vertical agriculture is necessary to meet global food needs. These industries should work to develop and support each other to ensure a sustainable future where access to fresh food is a right, not a privilege.
Entrepreneurs and farmers around the world are looking for more sustainable and efficient solutions to growing crops. Vertical farming brings with it the need to invest in infrastructure and technical expertise. Instead, it offers several opportunities that can help improve the current state of agriculture. There is a good chance that vertical farming will not only become an add-on to conventional farming methods but will set the standard for the future agricultural sector.
If you are curious about the topic of controlled-atmosphere farming or wondering how you can start your vertical farm – contact us via the contact form or email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team will be happy to answer your questions and advise you on the most beneficial vertical farming solutions.