The following write-up is all about Vertical Farming.
Introduction to Vertical Farming
The earth population is growing at a steady pace. As the population is growing so the demand for food supply is also increasing. To grow more food more land is required while prime agricultural lands are becoming scarce and expensive. Agriculture researchers are coming up with new ideas to generate food production and one such researcher Professor Dickson Despommier in 1999 came up with a concept of vertical farming; this farming utilizes less space for growing more food. Unlike traditional farming, he came up with new farming methods such as Hydroponics and Aeroponics which has high production of food at less space and yields faster.
Vertical farming in simple words is – ‘farms stacked on top of one another unlike conventional horizontal farming’. We can also define vertical farming as the practice of producing food and medicine in vertically stacked layers, Either vertically inclined surfaces and/or integrated into Different Constructions. Some entrepreneurs or farmers are beginning to implement vertical farming by using abandoned warehouses, apartment rooftops, and lands that are unfertile and useless for farming to produce vegetables, fruits, and leafy vegetables with high yields. In vertical farming, it involves growing crops in stacked layers reaching to several stories high with controlled environments such as light, temperature, and nutrients in indoors. This concept of farming is mostly utilized in small residential homes in Indian urban regions, while to produce commercially it has to be seriously considered as this new farming technology is growing rapidly in developed countries.
Why Vertical Farming
The population of the world is increasing at very fast pace particularly in the urban regions. According to U.N population division, the world population may increase from seven billion to nine plus billion by the year 2050. While the population in the urban regions is increasing at an alarming pace and reach to69% by 2050. 80 million people are added to the world’s population per annum. Agriculture produce is going down because of climate changes along with foodborne diseases are raising. Water supply to agriculture farming is becoming scarce in many places. Crops are failing due to plant pathogens and insect pests. To feed billions of mouths we need to generate enough food with limited land, water, and nutrient resources and this is achieved through vertical farming technology.
The vertical farming technology utilizes natural renewable resources to cultivate crops. For example, much of the crops are grown under artificial sunlight. Various water management and systems are used to pump water through pipelines. On top of the greenhouse or on skyscrapers windmill, solar panels are used for the purpose of generating electricity to produce artificial light and pumping water.
Types of Vertical Farming
Vertical farms come in different designs, patterns, and sizes. In developed countries, vertical farming is done in multi-storied buildings and large warehouses so be it simple two-level or multi-levels or even wall-mounted, vertical farming can be done depending on the size, shape, and levels of the available place. Basically, all types of vertical farms use growing mediums and soil-free growing such as hydroponics, aquaponics, or aeroponic systems.
Vertical Farming Hydroponics: This is the most widely growing system used in vertical farming. In this system, the soil is replaced with growing medium such as perlite, coconut fiber, coco peat, Rockwool, gravel, and etc. Plants grow by delivering nutrient water to the plant roots. The plant roots are enclosed in a mesh container with a substrate and will be hanging directly into the nutrient water. Roots draw water and nutrients directly from the water or from water absorbed substrates in the containers. The water must be frequently monitored for the correct nutrient composition. Hydroponics is more popular as crops can be cultivated depending on the plant habitat and size. Based on the nature of plants, cultivation can be done in several types of hydroponic systems such as the wick, drip system, flood and drain, deep water culture, nutrient film technique. How the different types of hydroponic system works are mentioned in detail in our Hydroponics section in our website.
Vertical Farming Aeroponics: This system involves growing plants in a misting environment with no growing medium or soil and very little water containing nutrients. Aeroponic systems are something that deviates from the standard or normal hydroponic farming methods in the vertical farming world, yet they are drawing in huge intrigue. An aeroponic system is by a wide margin the most productive plant-developing system for vertical cultivation, utilizing something like 90% less water than any one of the most effective hydroponic systems. Plants that have been developed in aeroponic systems have likewise been appeared to take-up more minerals and vitamins, making the plants more healthy and conceivably more nutritious.
The plants are introduced inside suspended units that are provided fundamental supplements for the plants to grow on a timely basis. The social ramifications are awesome giving high crop yield and very less risk that helps the entrepreneur over the long haul. How the aeroponic system works is a simple concept. To start with the motivation behind the roots hang in midair is so they can get the most amount of oxygen that they can get. Since there is typically very little growing media used, the roots are fully exposed to the high availability of oxygen enabling the plants to grow faster in this type of system. The plants are suspended either by mesh containers with perlite or Rockwool plugs that pack around the plant’s stem. These containers with perlite fit to small holes at the top of the growing chamber. The roots hang down freely inside the growing chamber where they get sprayed with vitamins and nutrient water from mist nozzle heads periodically. The standard sprinkling cycles keep the roots damp and from drying out, and in addition provides the nutrients the plants need to develop.
Vertical Farming Aquaponics: In this system, it’s a growing combination of both plants and fish in the same ecosystem. Fish are grown in large containers, the waste produced by fishes that turns into nitrates and ammonia for plants growth. The fish waste turns into a great fertilizer for plant and they suck up these nutrients from the water thereby purifying the water which is sent back to the large container where fish are living. Though, this type of system is not much widely used in vertical farming as most entrepreneurs focus on producing few fast-growing profitable vegetable crops. Some of the vertical farm entrepreneurs include aquaponics but in a smaller-scale depending on the main product line. Combination of aquaculture along with hydroponics may lead to higher income by utilizing small space, effort, water, and fertilizers.
Planning and Designing of Vertical Farm
The Shape of Building for Vertical Farming: Shape of the building plays an important role as it should receive maximum sunlight penetration inside throughout the day. Asymmetrical high rise building is much preferred as it is easy to plan design and build. Each floor must accommodate six beds with a pathway of about 150 to 200 cm for easy movement of equipment from place to place required for farming.
Irrigation for Vertical Farming: Drip irrigation remains the best irrigation method which saves water by allowing water to drip slowly directly onto the plant root zone. The components involved for water to reach the root zone include – water pump, water filters, fertigation systems, backwash controller, pressure control valve, pipes, and tubing. Liquid fertilizer or nutrients with irrigation water supplied through drip irrigation can save up to 95% in fertilizers. Drip irrigation that is properly designed, installed, managed, will help achieve water savings.
Light system for Vertical Farming: Lighting can be provided with natural sunlight system and artificial lighting system. With a network of reflectors installed on every floor will enable to utilize maximum sunlight during daytime. By night lighting can be done with light emitting diode system which is relatively cheap, bright, and long-lasting.
Advantages and disadvantages of Vertical Farming:
Vertical Farming Advantages:
Continuous Crop Production: An entrepreneur can expect crop production year round irrespective of regions, climate, and other environmental conditions. The quality and production are much more efficient than conventional methods of farming. According to Prof. Despommier, crop produced in 30 acres of open farmland by traditional farming methods can be obtained in an indoor one-acre vertical farming system, by taking into account the number of crops produced in a season.
Efficient Method: Many farmers and entrepreneurs in developed countries are moving to vertical farming from traditional farming because of its simple and easy farming methods. This farming system is very efficient and effective while with less manual farming work with savings such as pesticides and insecticides, herbicides, organic and chemical fertilizers, and weeding. The quality and yield are very high as everything is done in a controlled environment with a very minimal attack of pests and diseases.
Weather Conditions: Fruits, vegetables, and herbs are grown irrespective of plant habitat as temperatures are controlled and set to desirable plant healthy growing levels in a vertical farm system. This is the big advantage in protecting crops and plants from extreme weather conditions. Crops can be raised without getting damaged from heavy rains, high and low temperatures, snow, hail storms, floods, drought, and hurricanes.
Water Usage and Recycling: About 65% to 75% water is saved through hydroponic growing techniques compared to conventional agriculture farming methods. About 90% water will be saved when using an aeroponic system which involves misting of plant roots. Water wastage is very minimal making this type of farming advantageous.
Vertical Farming Disadvantages:
Investment on Land and Building: One of the biggest drawbacks in this farming is the high cost it is associated with. As prices of farmlands away from cities is very less compared to urban land and buildings. This can be carried out in abandoned warehouses which can be more economical but still, it is expensive compared with traditional farming costs. The cost involves the building or warehouse lease amount or purchasing amount will be high. Setting up of a controlled environment, materials for lying of multi-layer farm beds, and etc. is a huge one-time investment. Some of the hidden costs and flaws can be noticed only after running and must be ready to deal with such issues.
Energy Consumption: Energy consumption involves temperature controlling, artificial lighting, water pumping, etc., add to operational costs. Solar renewable energy is a one-time investment that can reduce much of the recurring huge bills. Although, the entrepreneur will save significantly from transportation cost on this type of farming method than conventional agriculture.
Limited Growing of Vegetable and Fruit Varieties: There is a limitation to grow different varieties of vegetables and fruits in vertical farming. Slow growing crops are not profitable and suitable for commercial vertical farming but will have more profits when growing high-value, fast growing, and quick turnover crops and plants.
Pollination: Pollination is one such issue that requires hand pollination. As this is a closed and indoor farming the chances of insects pollinating is highly negligible. Hence some researchers and entrepreneurs turned to rearing honeybees inside the vertical farming. Honeybees will pollinate at the same time will generate honey inside the honey boxes. Hand pollination requires more labor, workers and time-consuming.
Cost Analysis in Vertical Farming
More research is being carried out to bring about more production at reduced costs while vertical farming is steadily becoming an important agriculture aspect in developed countries and major densely populated urban regions. A detailed cost analysis of start-up costs and operation costs is essential while constructing a vertical farm. The amount of expenditure and revenue needs to be checked if it can produce more food at fewer resources usage. Some of the vital things to be considered can be of production proximity to market, existing infrastructure, local demand, government subsidies, and utilizing cheap energy with renewable resources. There are two types of costs in running a commercial vertical farming. 1. Fixed costs include – building and infrastructure, equipment and machinery. 2. Variable costs include – staff wages, power demand, plant seeds, water, nutrients, fish food, and transportation.
Vertical Farming Conclusion
Analyzing the components involved along with vertical farming techniques, one can start by investing accordingly to the financial position and about anywhere. A typical unit can be erected be it on your rooftop, backyard, or at any neglected place around making it operational in a short period of time. Though the operational cost will be expensive this is a onetime investment and production of high yields can last over the years meeting daily food supply at your table. For commercial production, one can make profits over the years while the setup cost will be heavily expensive and one can obtain subsidies from government and loans from banks as the benefits of vertical farming are endless.