Vertical Farming – the Future of Agriculture?

Never before have this many people lived on our planet at the same time. When the official UN estimates of the world population crossed the magical line of 7 billion in October 2011, the reactions of the press ranged from attempts at giving their readers a possibility to calculate their own number to bringing up common problems of the perceived overpopulation and future challenges. Amongst the most commonly mentioned subjects of concern were poverty and hunger.

5842427471_535f2c1c1d_bIn order to provide for mankind, new technologies in agriculture are in dire need. In the world’s most populous areas, urbanisation takes ever bigger forms, while cultivation areas are either in decline or can only grow through the destruction of nature. At the same time, a lot of consumers in more developed countries would prefer locally grown products to products that have been shipped around half the world before reaching the supermarket aisles. So why not integrate agriculture into our towns and cities? A lot of efforts have been made in the past few years, such as municipal volunteer projects using the parks and gardens of towns for growing food or the boom of architectural visions incorporating nature, be it in the form of rooftop gardens or garden beds on platforms protruding from the side of buildings.

The most promising idea, however, seems to be vertical farming, a technique where plants are grown on rack units with integrated LEDs, stacked all the way to the roof of a building, taking production to an industrial scale. The world’s largest factory of this type is currently located in Tagajo, Japan, owned by Mirai Inc., a company specialising in indoor farming. An old Sony factory, abandoned after the Earthquake in 2011, serves as the prototype facility. At the moment, it produces about 10,000 heads of lettuce a day on a floor space of only about 2,300 m², which is not even half the size of the football field at the Olympic stadium in Munich, with up to 15 rows of cultivation units stacked on top of each other.

The special LED lights used in the racks have been optimised to emit only wavelengths that promote plant growth, which helps both saving energy and reducing the time a plant needs to grow before being harvested. In fact, the usage of artificial lighting allows to shorten the day and night cycles of the plants.

5803130050_05d7d65eb7_bAs the factory is more or less a closed system, the lettuce grown in the building only requires about one percent of the water commonly used for growing lettuce, as water can be collected and reused. At the same time, it is now nearly impossible for pests to infest the plants thanks to the controlled environment and the strict hygiene guidelines. This means that at the Tagajo facility, pesticides have been made redundant, resulting in the products leaving the factory being more healthy than conventional ones. Another advantage of this type of farming is that it can be integrated into existing structures, such as the empty shells of old factories. Moreover, the percentage of lettuce that is thrown away before it even reaches the supermarket has been cut down to 3%, wheras 30% to 40% is the norm in conventional farming.

To further improve the process, sensors are being employed to measure factors such as temperature and air moisture, upon which airflow, irrigation and lighting are adjusted. This also allows for improvements to the software used in the control systems of the factory.

However, this type of farming still has quite a few limits. While large parts of the growing process are already automated, a lot of things still need to be done by hand. What’s more, the factories are highly dependent on a good internet infrastructure for their control systems and a steady supply with energy and water. Some of these problems could be overcome with the development of special harvest robots and the ever growing renewable energy sector. The initial costs to set up a sizeable facility, which are higher than for conventional farming, are easily paid off in time due to the higher efficiency of these farms. By experimenting, other types of plants, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, could soon be added to the range of products. Additionally, the technology could not only be used to relieve some of the hunger in the world, but also to grow medicinal herbs.

The concept has already yielded promising results:  Similar factories (of various sizes) have been constructed in several locations in Japan and Mongolia. Additional factories are due to be built in Russia and Hong Kong. Japan has traditionally only very limited surface area available for farming and seeks new incentives for economic growth, following the devastation caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Hong Kong and Mongolia want to become more independent in terms of food. Mongolia, however, is not limited by space like Hong Kong, but rather by the harsh climate which makes farming impossible. Consequently, despite the vast differences between the countries that have ordered factories to be built, vertical farming can be a solution for all of them due to its unique properties.

However, due to its heavy reliance on a good infrastructure, it might take a while until vertical farming becomes feasible in Third World countries. This means that more efforts have to be made to improve the existing production capacities by employing scientific farming methods. It is a race against time. Not only does the world’s population continue to grow, but there are already 805 million people currently suffering from hunger today, according to current estimates. Amongst them, there are many children – about 100 million of children in developing countries are underweight and about half of the deaths in children under the age of five are caused by hunger, killing about 3.1 million children each year.

Humanity should not pin all its hopes on vertical farming. The existing farming technologies have made huge jumps since the digitalisation. Therefore, it is not unlikely that we will see autonomous tractors, harvesting machines and picking robots supported by satellite pictures and drones equipped with new types of sensors in the future. Nonetheless, we need to do our bit to change consumer behaviour first, which might lead to a more fair distribution of food in the world.


By Michael Schätzlein

Image credit:

Picture 1: TCDavis, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Picture 2: Plant Chicago, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

255 thoughts on “Vertical Farming – the Future of Agriculture?

  1. Pingback: 360 frontal
  2. Pingback: lebron soldier 10
  3. Pingback: nike pg1
  4. Pingback: nike kyrie 3
  5. Pingback: nike free tr
  6. Pingback: tissot watches
  7. Pingback: adidas nmd xr1
  8. Pingback: asics shoes
  9. Pingback: bape hoodie
  10. Pingback: kyrie 3
  11. Pingback: lebron 14 shoes
  12. Pingback: lebron james shoes
  13. Pingback: Air max pas cher
  14. Pingback: Junior Final 2011
  15. Pingback: burberry cappello
  16. Pingback: My Homepage
  17. Pingback: buy a zipline
  18. Pingback: cpns 2017
  19. Pingback: GVK Biosciences
  20. Pingback: odunlade adekola
  21. Pingback: cpns kemenkumham
  22. Pingback: Shemale.UK
  23. Pingback: sciarpe burberrys
  24. Pingback: Bangalore Escorts
  25. Pingback: Kolkata Escorts
  26. Pingback: Goa Escorts
  27. Pingback: auto taxi
  28. Pingback: Freemason
  29. Pingback: Retort ring
  30. Pingback: myjob
  31. Pingback: online free course
  32. Pingback: 100% kona coffee
  33. Pingback: Kona coffee brands
  34. Pingback: buy lion coffee
  35. Pingback: Videography
  36. Pingback: Cbd
  37. Pingback: IPTV panel
  38. Pingback: Roof rack
  39. Pingback: Free Shipping
  40. Pingback: สมัครm88
  41. Pingback: Safety Services
  42. Pingback: best bean
  43. Pingback: Samaung remonts
  44. Pingback: Sidewalk install
  45. Pingback: Rockstar
  46. Pingback: Bun B illuminati
  47. Pingback: Fitness tips
  48. Pingback: mansion88
  49. Pingback: nowbet
  50. Pingback: kshar sutra cure
  51. Pingback: Condos locatifs
  52. Pingback: cosplay contacts
  53. Pingback: best cosplay store
  54. Pingback: gaara cosplay
  55. Pingback: cosplay mask
  56. Pingback: manga cosplay
  57. Pingback: neko cosplay
  58. Pingback: tifa cosplay
  59. Pingback: good cosplay sites
  60. Pingback: bleach costume
  61. Pingback: costumes for sale
  62. Pingback: male cosplay wigs
  63. Pingback: anime cosplay wigs
  64. Pingback: chun li cosplay
  65. Pingback: what is cosplay
  66. Pingback: stand up foil bag
  67. Pingback: AWMA Tang so do
  68. Pingback: 20q game online
  69. Pingback: fitness specials
  70. Pingback: software store
  71. Pingback: paletten
  72. Pingback: car radio code
  73. Pingback: find new friends
  74. Pingback: Joe Alvarez
  75. Pingback: Sprinklecoin
  76. Pingback: modular trailers
  77. Pingback: math games
  78. Pingback: wedding hats
  79. Pingback: Seasonal Goods
  80. Pingback: used cars Boise
  81. Pingback: gfe
  82. Pingback: gfe
  83. Pingback: Celebrity News
  84. Pingback: tandoor lafayette
  85. Pingback: Hand Assembly
  86. Pingback: CBD Oil
  87. Pingback: SNSG
  88. Pingback: Samurai
  89. Pingback: Marijuana Cash Cow
  90. Pingback: FUNKY MONKEY BABYS
  91. Pingback: character graphics
  92. Pingback: buy cialis

Comments are closed.