Vertical Farming

The Answer to sustainable agriculture

WHAT IS VERTICAL FARMING?

Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops indoors in vertically stacked layers. It is one method of controlled-environment agriculture, which aims to optimize plant growth using soilless farming techniques, such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. Without the need for soil, anything from an abandoned warehouse, to a retail store, all the way to a storage facility or shipping container can be turned into a vertical farm.

Historically, agriculture was an outdoor business, with farmers only able to grow certain crops in certain climates at certain times of the year. Vertical farming aims to upend that millennia-old truth. Vertical farming harnesses the power of technology to grow crops efficiently (stacked one on top of the other) in a controlled environment.

Whether you are a new business or a more established entity looking to expand within the United States, Air conditioning provides a controlled flow of air which can be enriched with carbon dioxide (CO2) to further advance plant growth and development. Both ambient and nutrient temperatures can be held at specific levels that optimize the rate of plant growth. Any nutrients and water not absorbed by the roots can be recycled rather than lost to the environment. This unlocks many positives, such as higher productivity per square foot, a more efficient use of resources, and a reliable yield 365 days a year. Vertical farms can be built anywhere and are typically inside or right outside of major cities so that fresher produce can hit shelves at local grocery stores and limit the transportation time and energy for field grown crops.

Vertical farming opens the opportunity to produce a larger variety of harvestable crops at one location due to the ability to isolate crop sectors. As opposed to a traditional farm where one type of crop is harvested per season, vertical farms allow for a variety of crops to be grown and harvested at once due to their individual land plots.

THE GROW FARM ADVANTAGE

Using an intelligently located controlled environment allows the grower to control everything that goes in, everything that comes out, and how quickly the product can get to the consumer. This level of control leads to benefits to the environment, crop output, resource use, food safety, transportation, and social advantages.

Vertical farming is in a unique position where the benefits to the environment are also benefits to the grower and consumer. There is a reduced use of fossil fuels, and therefore cost, by avoiding transportation from rural zones to urban customer bases. Local production can shorten transportation times by 1000x when looking at where most of our nation’s food is grown. Although growing indoors means simulating the sun’s energy using power, this energy is minimized by employing solar panels, roof-top wind turbines, and storage batteries. Producing food indoors reduces/eliminates conventional plowing, planting, and harvesting by farm machinery. This protects soil and reduces emissions from this equipment. Vertical farming also allows for enhanced resource management where the precise amount of water and fertilizer can be used to optimally grow the crop.  None will be wasted by the uncontrolled weather elements. Much of the water that is used and released from the plants can be recaptured and recycled from the HVAC condensate. Vertical farming is typically free of pesticides and herbicides and eliminates fertilizer runoff, which can be harmful to the local water supply, plant life, and wildlife. 

Vertical farms can grow all-year-round, regardless of the weather conditions. By being indoors, they are not susceptible to the impacts of extreme weather like conventional farms are. Traditional field farms plant their crops in long, low horizontal rows, requiring extensive space space to grow crops. However, in vertical farms, plants are densely packed and stacked high in trays or towers, allowing a farm to produce a greater amount of food in a much smaller footprint. On traditional farms, it’s common to have one or two harvests per year. Since crop growth is tied to the seasons, breaking out of this constraint is nearly impossible. But since vertical farms are generally grown indoors, seasonal change is irrelevant. When farmers can control the climate of each crop, they can grow their plants to maturity and plant new ones faster.

One of the oldest and most difficult challenges of farming is avoiding crop loss. Traditional farming methods make it difficult to guard against extreme weather, swarms of pests, disease, contamination, and soil degradation concerns—much of which is beyond their control due to the open-air environment. Recent floods have cost US farmers billions of dollars in lost crops and even more devastating losses in topsoil. Vertical farming offers answers to these problems as climate concerns are nearly nonexistent within the controlled environment. In fact, vertical farms can do well in regions where adverse weather conditions are the norm. Even in the driest deserts, the coldest wastelands, and the most storm-prone areas, these facilities can continue to produce. With risk mitigated, and even eliminated, farmers can rest assured knowing that their plants will all reach maturity, be harvested, and make it to market.

Many factors influence the air velocity or air flowSince 2006, leafy greens have been involved in at least 46 multi-state E. coli outbreaks. Tracing the origin of each outbreak is challenging because crops often come from multiple farms, are mixed at processing plants, and distributed by a third party. This makes food safety a major concern for consumers. These outbreaks are often due to black water runoff and irrigation water contamination from nearby livestock farms which are not a factor for vertical farming.

Sustainability is a key feature that sets vertical farming apart from traditional farming. NDBS wants to ensure the longevity and profitability of your indoor farming space by incorporating sustainable practices into your facility, such as water conservation. Our HVAC team will develop a design that not only conserves–but also optimizes–the use of water, ensuring that all water that is removed from the space By repurposing industrial buildings into smart indoor vertical farming systems, food can be grown closer to the cities where it’s consumed. Growing produce closer to the consumer market eliminates food miles and food waste, shortening the time between harvest and when produce reaches the shelf. The reduced handling allows for plant cultivars to be selected, optimizing taste, fragrance, and/or appearance as opposed to the traditional priorities of “durability” and “shelf life” that are required when using traditional product handling/distribution approaches.

Vertical farming will provide new jobs in engineering, biochemistry, biotechnology, construction, maintenance—not to mention the research and development opportunities for improving the technology. Enhanced productivity can lead to lower food and energy costs and improve discretionary incomes. The oversupply of high-rise apartments, malls, unused warehouses, and other large commercial real estate in cities can be reduced by repurposing them for high density vertical farms close to the consumer. These empty buildings are oftentimes in neglected neighborhoods that have not seen investment in generations.  The farms can help rejuvenate the area while providing accessible, well-paying jobs for the community.

The Future of Vertical Farming

The United States Department of Agriculture predicts the worldwide population to exceed 9 billion by 2050, most of which will be living in urban or city areas. Vertical farming is the USDA’s predicted answer to the potential food shortage as the population increases. This method of farming is environmentally responsible by lowering emissions and reducing water requirements.

The output from vertical farms alone won’t be enough to feed our rapidly growing population. Conventional farmers, modern farmers, and agricultural scientists will need to work together to create a more resilient, sustainable food system.

Traditional farming’s arable land requirements are too large and invasive to remain sustainable for future generations. With the rapid population growth rates, it is expected that arable land per person will drop about 66% in 2050 in comparison to 1970. Vertical farming is part of the answer to sustainable agriculture and healthy food production as our population grows and natural resources become more limited.

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