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Hydropolis » Blog » Is Vertical Farming an Answer to Environmental Challenges?
28.02.2024 Autor: Hydropolis

Is Vertical Farming an Answer to Environmental Challenges?

Hydropolis » Blog » Is Vertical Farming an Answer to Environmental Challenges?
Autor: Hydropolis

Agriculture in Poland and worldwide faces several challenges, especially in environmental aspects such as biodiversity protection and the depletion of clean water resources. The main task for the agricultural industry is to find efficient cultivation methods ensuring access to healthy food daily.

This challenge requires changes on various aspects, including production sites, natural resource utilization (including water), food transportation methods, as well as the quantity and quality of fertilizers used.

Environmental Benefits of Hydroponic Vertical Farming

Vertical farms are one of the ways to improve the agricultural industry. They constitute a component of a sustainable food production system. They can effectively accelerate the changes necessary in the face of the ongoing climate crisis.

1. Water Conservation

Only 1% of the available water on Earth meets agricultural, production, and societal needs. Agriculture consumes 70% of the total freshwater resources1. Increasingly frequent droughts worsen conditions in agricultural fields. In 2022, over 630,000 km2 of Europe’s area was affected by drought. This area is nearly twice the size of Poland (322,575 km²).

Poland has limited drinking water resources per capita, mainly due to heavy pollution of surface waters. Chemical agents are commonly used in agriculture, and their residues end up in rivers and subsequently in water intakes, causing significant pollution.

Zaniczyszczenie wód
Source: Water Pollution, Canva.

Decreasing freshwater resources affect the environment, farmers and agri-food producers the most. The situation encourages the implementation of changes in the approach to the use of this valuable resource on the farm and exploring alternative methods of food production.

Vertical farming in a hydroponic system allows saving up to 95% of water compared to conventional agriculture. The water circulates in a closed loop with nutrients, providing plants with all necessary nutrients. But that’s not all. Modern methods of recovering water from the atmosphere are used on vertical farms. This solution also offers the possibility of utilizing rainwater.

2. Fresh herbs, lettuce, and strawberries all year round

The latest report “Global Food & Drink Trends 2024” leaves no doubt. Consumers are increasingly concerned about their health. They seek healthy and nutritious food to incorporate into their diets. According to forecasts, before adding a product to their basket, customers will not only check the price but also verify the list of ingredients and nutritional values on the packaging.

Sałata z upraw wertykalnych
Source: Hydroponic cultivation of lettuces in Krakow, own materials of Hydropolis R&D

Chemical agents for pest control are not a 21st-century invention. They have been used since ancient times. The first mentions date back to around 1550 BCE. Over the years, they have evolved, and their impact on human health has been significant.

Pesticides can disrupt hormonal balance and contribute to respiratory and digestive system diseases. These are just some of the risks associated with their use. Since 2004, the Environmental Working Group has been creating a ranking of fruits and vegetables contaminated with pesticides. Interestingly, their guide is based on products ready for consumption – they are always washed and, in appropriate cases, peeled.

Even in such situations, the detected number of pesticides can still be high. In the 2023 EWG report “Dirty Dozen”, strawberries, spinach, and kale took the podium. Following them are apples and berries/blueberries.

Źródło: Opracowanie własne na podstawie DIRTY DOZEN™, EWG’s 2023 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

Among the trends in the food industry that will remain in discourse for longer, one can include the reduction of processed food and the leading of a healthier lifestyle.

The dynamic climate changes, projected population growth, and continuously rising levels of CO2 emissions leave no illusions. Changes in production are necessary to ensure everyone has access to healthy food.

Vertical farming aligns with the idea of sustainable agriculture in the 21st century. On such farms, plants are grown without pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. The use of fertilizers is limited to 65%! At B+R Hydropolis farms, research is continuously conducted to implement the most natural methods of plant protection.

3. Shortening the supply chain

Persimmons and pomegranates in the middle of winter? The sight of exotic products on supermarket shelves, including fruits and vegetables from various corners of the world, no longer surprises us. With the growing demand for diverse food products, transportation has become a key link in food supply chains. This does not leave the environment unaffected.

In a study published in Nature Food, the carbon footprint resulting from global food transportation was estimated. The authors assessed the entire supply chain, scrutinizing emissions related to the transportation of fertilizers, machinery, animal feed, and the conveyance of food itself.

Globalny transport
Source: Global transport, Canva.

The results proved alarming. In one year, the food production industry was responsible for emitting the equivalent of 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide – 3.5 to 7.5 times more than previously estimated!

Vertical farming can be established in the heart of cities or in deserts, ensuring constant access to healthy, locally produced food. The quantity of so-called “food miles” is minimized to the necessary minimum. The delivery time of products to the final consumer is significantly accelerated.

This is a positive change for the environment and communities, both for those living in crowded urban areas and for those who have chosen to reside in remote peripheries. Continuous access to fresh products is one of the most crucial elements needed to ensure food security.

Profitability of vertical farming – is it worth starting?

Uprawa wertykalna w systemie hydroponicznym sałat, materiały własne Hydropolis B+R

Source: Vertical farming lettuce in hydroponic system, own material Hydropolis R&D

The plant growth model is a key element of success in cultivation. It allows achieving high yields and, as a result, a quick return on investment. It is also known as a set of variables collected in a cultivation algorithm.

Katarzyna Dziedzic – R&D Director

Plant growth model = recipe for successful crop

Similar to culinary recipes, our algorithms contain chronologically arranged steps to follow to obtain the desired yield. Just as chefs create or refine their culinary recipes to achieve delicious dishes, during our research, we also test various recipe variations, sometimes making adjustments to achieve healthy and substantial yields.

Do you want to know more about vertical farming?

Thanks to it, each parameter in crop has a value corresponding to the current needs of the plant, including temperature, air humidity, optimal DLI for a given plant, lighting time, as well as the quantities of nutrients and water. Regardless of the crop stage, day, hour, or even second, the plant receives everything it needs for healthy and rapid growth.

It is thanks to the developed plant growth model in vertical farm that production repeatability and high yields are ensured.

Vertical farming an urban solution to an urban problem

Vertical farming is one of the methods for efficient plant cultivation virtually anywhere on Earth. This innovative approach can help effectively reduce water consumption in crops. It also allows for faster transportation of healthy products, thanks to attractive locations in urbanized areas.

Vertical farming in hydroponic systems brings a fresh perspective on what we eat and where it comes from, thereby setting new standards for efficiency and sustainable urban development.

This is just the beginning – further research into farming conducted in the R&D department of Hydropolis, as well as in the entire industry, may bring further evolutionary changes in food production methods.

1 THE WORLD BANK, Water In Agriculture, 2024.

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