Every type of grain grows best under certain conditions. In the past, most grains were simply grown in the regions that yielded the best results. However, as time goes on, the world population increases, farmland decreases, and climates change in ways that necessitate that we adapt our farming practices in order to grow enough food to feed everyone across the globe.
Vertical farming is a system that has been developed for around two decades. Originally, Professor Dickson Despommier at Columbia University designed a skyscraper capable of growing crops to feed 50,000 people. His design is the basis for modern vertical farming.
This method allows crops to be grown in areas that don’t usually support lucrative farming, such as deserts, populated areas like cities, and mountainsides. Vertical farming also increases the yield per unit area compared to traditional farming methods.
Challenges of Vertical Farming
Vertical farming provides a unique solution for current farming demands, but it’s not without its challenges.
Replicating Climactic Conditions
Space is not the only thing needed to grow crops. You also have to replicate climate conditions to support a plant’s needs for maximum yield. Lighting systems, heating, air conditioning, and dehumidifiers may all be needed to support crops used in vertical farming.
Dehumidification is especially a challenge because plants have varying water needs and sophisticated (and costly) equipment is often needed to replicate those water levels in vertical farms.
It’s estimated that constructing a 60-hectare vertical farm will cost 100 million dollars or more. There are also ongoing costs to run a vertical farm, such as occupancy fees (as many vertical farms are in urban areas where space is limited and very expensive). It may take many years for a vertical farm to recoup its expenses.
Vertical farming requires that workers have a very specific education in order to run the farm effectively, which raises labour costs. Expensive equipment is also a part of ongoing labour expenses.
Energy shortages and environmental concerns mean that energy use is an important concern with any farming method. Unfortunately, vertical farms currently require a large amount of energy.
Lighting, heating, cooling, and dehumidification are all very energy-intensive. It’s imperative to find more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly energy sources, such as solar energy, in order to reduce energy usage for vertical farms.
With high levels of energy usage, pollution becomes an issue. In most countries around the world, energy is still supplied with methods that release air pollutants and high levels of CO2. Reducing energy needs and using more green energy sources are helpful for reducing pollution.
Cost vs Benefit
Although there are definite concerns and challenges involved with vertical farming, there are still distinct benefits that make this method attractive. If crops are grown in urban areas, energy wasted on food shipment is significantly reduced. Vertical farming can also improve access to healthy, fresh food in urban communities. Every region and community will have to decide if the trade-offs are worth it.