The world has an ever-increasing population, and sustainability is one of the largest challenges we face today. Currently, the agriculture industry is approaching a crossroads between growing enough food for an increasing population and improving environmental practices. This opens the door for innovation as food production will need to increase about 60 per cent by 2050,(1) with only a 2 per cent increase in agricultural land use.(1) These two projections don’t quite agree with each other and could mean facing a massive global food shortage in the future. One possible answer to the problem ahead could be vertical farming.
Vertical farming is where rows of plants are grown in trays stacked upwards. It is typically done indoors where there is more control over temperature, water management, and general growing conditions. Having plants indoors eliminates a lot of factors that come with growing them outside.
Having total control over the growing environment comes with its advantages. For example, plants that could only be grown in warmer climates or have short growing seasons can now be grow in a colder climate and thrive year-round. Not only does weather leave the equation, but so do weeds, natural predators of the plant, and pests that could ruin the crop.
However, advanced vertical farms equipped with temperature control, irrigation, and lighting sufficient for growing plants will require a large amount of energy. Currently, vertical farming on a mass scale would require more energy than we can sustainably produce. One option is to explore green sources of energy, which depending on our advances in infrastructure, could become a reality in the future.
If the energy requirements can be met, vertical farms could solve many of the problems we are currently facing. Over the next 50 years, about 80 per cent of the world's population will be living in urban areas,(2) and the positive impact vertical farming would bring to communities should not be overlooked. Fresh, locally grown products would hardly have to travel any distance to reach consumer hands, helping solve complex issues like food deserts. Also, by limiting transportation time, food waste could be reduced and carbon emissions squashed.
Vertical farms are just one of the many options being explored to feed a growing population, and the solution is very close, as scientists are researching cleaner energy and more sustainable methods to deliver electricity. By starting small and supporting the local vertical farm community, we can see a future where energy challenges are overcome and communities are provided with sustainable, healthy diet options.
1 University of Bonn—Up up and Away! The Economics of Vertical Farming, 2013
2 University Putra Malaysia—Opportunities and Challenges in Sustainability of Vertical Farming: a Review, 2017