Vertical farming is a sustainable solution to food security, environmental degradation, and economic instability. It has the potential to feed the world, but there are 5 challenges that need to be addressed first.
As the global population increases, food sources may start to be a global problem. Most would say that farming and having people grow their own food could help resolve that, but as we speak, arable lands are being lost to urbanization and industrial development.
That’s why numerous studies are being conducted on alternative ways to grow food sustainably. One such method that’s being used today is vertical farming. This is a modern way of farming that allows you to grow food in small spaces, removing the need for a spacious backyard or garden. It’s a good alternative to traditional farming, as it can be practiced in highly urbanized areas as well.
Like most alternative solutions though, it does come with its own set of challenges. Before you decide to venture into this, it would be best to learn as much as you can about it so you can be better prepared. That being said, this article will give you a rundown of different challenges to vertical farming and possible ways to resolve them.
Understanding Vertical Farming
Vertical farming, as the name suggests, is the process of growing food on vertical surfaces. In contrast with traditional farming, in which food is grown on a single flat level, vertical farming makes use of vertical stacked layers, on which food is produced. They can usually be integrated into other structures as well, such as shipping containers or repurposed warehouses, so they don’t take up too much space.
Though vertical farming is considered a new concept in the West, many countries have been implementing this practice for quite some time. In China, Singapore, and Japan especially, people have been growing crops on vertically stacked shelves for years. The practice is quite economical, so it will likely become a necessary alternative to traditional crop farming as populations increase and space becomes limited in cities around the world.
This practice is well-suited for urban areas especially, since vertical farming can minimize the amount of land needed while still maximizing yields through techniques such as stacking plant harvests on top of one another or growing plants under carefully controlled conditions. In addition, vertical farming makes use of artificial lighting, which can allow for crops to be grown throughout the year, regardless of the season.
In certain buildings dedicated specifically for vertical farming, hydroponics is used, as well as a combination of systems for climate and light-controlled areas. Hydroponics is essentially the practice of growing plants without soil. Instead, water is the plants’ main source of nutrients, oxygen, and hydration. Though it sounds unusual, a number of different fruits and vegetables can be grown with this technique, such as watermelons and jalapeños.
There are many advantages that come with the technologies used for vertical farming. For one, even with a smaller area to farm in, it’s possible to increase your crop yield and grow a variety of food at the same time. And since vertical farming can be done indoors, this also allows for the guaranteed safety of your crops; you no longer have to worry about losing them to wild animals or to extreme weather conditions.
These systems for vertical farms create the perfect environment for crops and plants to thrive. And it isn’t just limited to plants—vertical farming can be applied to seafood as well. The techniques have evolved over time, so today, there are several seafood producers that use vertical farming for their production, using vertical ropes to grow scallops, seaweed, and mussels.
As you can see, growing food with vertical farming is a great way to live sustainably, especially in highly urbanized areas where spacious land may be sparce.
Vertical Farming Challenges and Possible Solutions
Vertical farming provides numerous benefits to farmers, as well as to the environment, and it is a good answer to the problem of increasing food demand and less arable lands. However, there are still some challenges that come with it, and we should dive into the possible solutions for these.
Though it was emphasized earlier in the article that vertical farming can be done just about anywhere, farmers still need to put a lot of consideration into choosing the right location. This isn’t about finding the right conditions for their crops; it’s about finding the right conditions for their sales. If they set up a vertical farm too far from consumers, their business won’t be as lucrative. The same thing goes for if they set up a vertical farm in a well-populated area with little to no food demand.
If you’re looking to get into vertical farming, you should be sure to do your research on the location you’re eyeing. Consider the kind of foods that are popular among the people there and what the demand is for. Check if your vertical farm can provide the food they want; if it can, you may be able to get loyal customers for your products. Just keep in mind that a good location comes with good food demand.
Temperature and Humidity Control
A vertical farm is similar to a greenhouse, except that its aim is to maximize crop output in a limited space. Much like a greenhouse, vertical farms should prioritize temperature and humidity control.
Constant airflow is important, as it’s necessary to ensure that your plants grow properly. It helps to reduce humidity and circulate CO2, and it ensures that air moves regularly through your filtering systems. This prevents the buildup of heat and keeps your farming area from turning into a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria, thus keeping your crops safe from infection.
To better facilitate air movement in your facility, you should also carefully consider the layout of your indoor farm. Naturally, you would want to use vertical planes, as these allow air to move more easily than it would in a horizontal layout.
If you’re still starting out, it may take a while before you can achieve the ideal working conditions for your vertical farm. Fortunately, there are quite a few ways to help with this. For one, you can achieve the right temperature, ventilation, and humidity by using the right HVAC system. It would be best to consult a professional regarding this, as they can give reliable advice on the type of system you may need, depending on the size of your farm and the specific conditions you want to achieve.
You may also need to try different combinations of dehumidification, cooling, and heating systems to get your desired result. In addition, you should ensure that your farm is well-insulated, just so you don’t get caught unawares by colder weather.
Vertical farms could greatly benefit cities and urban areas, but unfortunately, the land in these places may be quite costly for most farmers. Though vertical farming can be done almost anywhere, you may still need land if you want to properly establish a business.
That being said, there are a number of things you should take into account when planning for expenses. Not only will you have to find proper land you can afford, but you also need to acquire the insurance and permits to go with it. In addition, you’ll have to spend on good-quality technology to keep your farm running. Since there are a number of systems and equipment needed to ensure optimal growing conditions for your plants, you can expect that it won’t be cheap.
Fortunately, in some countries, the government offers grants and loans for farmers. They can also set up initiatives to help support the agricultural sector, such as providing the necessary technology for farms looking to grow food sustainably. If you live in the United States, the U.S. Small Business Administration can help you qualify for grants under Small Business Innovative Research or Small Business Technology Transfer.
Impact To Communities
If everyone tries to live sustainably and develop ways to produce their own food source, the livelihood of most local farmers may be affected. Since vertical farming could replace traditional farming and agricultural methods, the traditional techniques and systems may become dated or obsolete. Traditional farmers may then struggle to make ends meet as they attempt to compete with vertical farms.
To ensure that these farmers aren’t left behind by advancements made in the agricultural sector, government and private companies that support vertical farming should also extend that same support to others within the industry, especially those who still use the traditional methods. Strategies, development plans, and rules should be put in place so everyone in the community can transition to modern farming methods with ease.
Spread of Disease Among Plants
Since vertical farming often utilizes a smaller space than traditional farming, crops and plants may be much closer together in this setup. This means that if a disease or infestation occurs, it could quickly spread to your other crops and possibly ruin your harvest.
It may not be a common occurrence since vertical farms are often closed systems, but you should still take certain precautions to ensure that pests aren’t able to enter. If you or one of your employees isn’t careful, a pest may be able to slip inside, and this could lead to a crop infestation.
Thus, it’s essential that you put your staff through training in pest control and prevention methods. You should emphasize the importance of this, as a small slip-up could affect the entire system. In addition, you and your staff should take care to ensure that the site is clean and that regular disinfection is done, so no pests can thrive in the system.
Though vertical farming may be a new venture, it’s a good solution to the problems of overpopulation and increased food demand. Some people may think that there is only one method to farming—the traditional one—and that they’re unable to do it themselves. However, with vertical farming, average people can grow their own food, and farmers can harvest fresh produce sustainably and efficiently. There may be challenges that come with the system, but once those are overcome, vertical farming can be a sustainable option for all.