What Is Vertical Farming?

Some intensive conventional agriculture practices have been shown to be harmful to the planet, and we must find better ways of producing food to avoid causing bigger environmental problems for future generations.

That’s where Vertical Farming comes in.

What is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is the process of growing plants under fully controlled conditions and in many stacked layers.

Plants are grown using soil-free techniques in specially designed trays that are stacked vertically. In using vertical stacked layers, farmers can produce much more food on the same amount of land when compared to conventional farming methods.

These systems are designed in a way that allows full control over the climate and the lighting available to provide the desired results. LED lighting provides different wavelengths of light depending on the crop and the growth stage need.

Types of Growing Systems Used Within Vertical Farms

Hydroponics

In hydroponic systems, plants are grown without using soil and instead use a substrate such as coco coir, rockwool, clay aggregate, perlite or vermiculite to name a few. The plant roots are either partially or completely immersed in a nutrient solution.

There are different types of hydroponic systems:

  • Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
  • Deep Water Culture (DWC)
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
  • Wick systems
  • Drip Systems

 Aeroponics

Aeroponics is another method of growing plants without soil, similar to hydroponics. However, with this method, the plants are grown without a growing medium, and the roots are sprayed with a nutrient-dense mist. This is different from hydroponics, where the plant roots are submerged in a nutrient-dense solution.

Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a cooperation between plants and fish. These systems mimic a natural ecosystem. The waste by-product from the fish is converted into the perfect fertiliser for the growing plants, and the nutrient-rich water is continuously recycled.

Advantages of Vertical Farms

Uses Less Water

Vertical farming allows us to produce crops with 70-95% less water in comparison to conventional farming methods.

This farming method uses hydroponic systems to grow produce, and most of these recycle the water used within a recirculating system. In addition to this, as vertical farms are in controlled environments within an enclosed area, any water that evaporates can be recycled, and reused. In conventional farming, water often ends up wasted through evaporation.

Increased Production

Unlike conventional farming, where supply must ‘follow the sun’ across borders, crops can be grown in the same location all-year-round. This is due to the controlled environment and lighting. It means those crops that were previously seasonal due to weather constraints can be grown locally instead removing the need to transport them from other countries.

Takes up Less Space

Vertical farming has been designed in a way that makes use of all the space available. Growing upwards means that more crops can be grown in each area of land, thus production can increase.

It also means that urban sites can be utilised making it possible to bring food production right into the heart of cities. With more locally grown produce available, it helps to reduce the transportation costs.

Eliminates Environmental Impact

Various environmental factors can affect the growth performance of a crop, such as undesirable temperatures, flooding, and drought. These are issues that cannot be controlled when growing outdoors.

Likewise, conventional farms are susceptible to interference from disease and pests. Many of these are found in soil. This can be controlled to an extent with the use of pesticides and chemicals; however, this isn’t an ideal solution. Growing indoors without soil in a controlled environment eradicates these issues, thus removes the need for any chemicals. 

Controlled-environment Agriculture (CEA)

CEA is a technology-based approach towards food production, aiming to provide protection from outdoor elements and maintain optimal growing conditions at all times. This type of production takes place within an enclosed space, such as within a greenhouse or factory.

These technologies include hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics, and the technique optimises resources such as water, energy, space, labour, and capital.

The greenhouse industry is currently the largest component of the CEA industry; however, the Vertical Farming segment is quickly growing.

Why Is Urban Agriculture Important?

Cultivating and processing food in and around urban areas is becoming increasingly more necessary to keep up with demand. Due to the smaller space needed, controlled-environment agriculture can exist within repurposed structures, for example old office buildings or in basements.

Not only does this help to make use of previously vacant buildings, but it means that food produce doesn’t have to travel as far. Businesses within cities and towns can shop more local and reduce carbon emissions from transportation.

How does Vertical Farming compare to conventional Farming?

By 2050 we need to increase food production by around 70% to meet the caloric needs of the growing global population. Conventional farming uses up a high number of resources, and this will continue to rise as the need for more produce increases. As this need grows, the amount of land needed also vastly increases putting essential ecosystems at risk.

One of the biggest benefits to take from the above is that vertical farming uses up a lot less space than conventional farming methods. As a result, you get a farm with a tiny footprint that can grow food all year round, regardless of the climate outside. Not only that, but transportation distances and the need for importation can be reduced due to more locally grown produce being available. 

For more information about Vertical Farming and how Perfectly Fresh can help, contact us here.

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