Newer and more advanced forms of precision agriculture technology are a must for this ever-growing world of ours. There is a need for more sustainable farming practices that will feed hungry mouths around the globe. It is estimated that by the year 2050 the world population is expected to increase to around 9.8 billion people- an increase of 2 billion. This is a huge challenge.
To make matters worse, due to the growth of the industrial sector, we are falling short on arable land with each passing year. In the past 40 years, due to the pace of industrialisation, we have lost 33% of our arable land worldwide. It is anyone’s guess, what the figure will be like in the coming years. Whatever it is, it doesn’t look promising.
So what can we do? What is the trump card that will help us turn the tables? Vertical farming is the answer we may be looking for.
What Is Vertical Farming?
It is a form of crop technology that makes use of vertically inclined surfaces. The idea is quite ingenious-the same way we build high rises to accommodate more people in an increasingly dense urban setting. So rather than farming vegetables and foods on a single level that spans horizontally, the farming occurs vertically on integrated structures like skyscrapers, warehouses and shipping containers.
This is an extension of indoor farming. It makes use of artificial lighting and other parameters like the moisture and temperature control is employed to effectively grow. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that vertical farming is much like greenhouses, where artificial lighting and metal reflectors are used. This is simply a smarter way of doing the same, using limited space.
How Does Vertical Farming Work?
There are a few key aspects of this type of farming, which are the physical layout, the growing medium, the sustainability features and the lighting.
If it isn’t obvious, the idea of vertical farming is to grow more food in lesser space i.e. more food per square meter. To enable this, the crops are cultivated and stacked in the form of towering structures. There is then a need to provide a combination of both natural as well as artificial light to facilitate growth. The trick lies in ensuring that there is sufficient light for the underlying layers. Usually, rotating beds are used to give all of the layers ample light.
The entire depth of the parent soil cannot be utilised when in such tight quarters. Instead, an aeroponic, hydroponic or aquaponic medium is used to facilitate growth. To finalize, there are various sustainability features that are added to offset the energy demand. What will be interesting to note is vertical farming uses 95% less amount of water.
The Benefits Of Vertical Farming
The obvious win-win situation of greater output with a much smaller cultivation area needed is not the only benefit we can reap from vertical farming.
- It Is Future-Proof
In the next 3 decades, we can expect a majority of the population to migrate to urban settings. This will vastly increase the food demands. The efficient use of vertical farming will do a lot in helping to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
- Saving Water
Since this method of farming uses much less water-as much as 95% less water, we can expect more water available for other purposes.
- Fail-Proof From Droughts, Floods And Cyclones
Crops are often prone to the weather and climate, at large. An unsuspecting drought, flood or a cyclone is more than enough to render the crop useless. Further, the obvious threat of global warming has made weather all the more unpredictable. By making use of vertical farming practices, we can pretty much throw out all risk of unfavorable weather conditions out the window. We will have amazing harvest output throughout the year.
It Is Environmental Friendly
There are much less occupational and environmental hazards when compared to conventional farming. Nearby wildlife and fauna are not subjected to disturbances. Further, the growth happens in a highly regulated and controlled environment. This will enable us to distance ourselves from the use of pesticides and chemicals, which are otherwise dangerous.
The Limitations Of Vertical Farming
- Natural Pollination Can’t Happen
Since the farming is going to occur in a highly controlled, regulated environment, there is no scope of pollination by insects, birds and animals. This levies a higher labour strain on the system and will be more costly to get it done manually.
- Too Much Dependence On Technology
This goes without saying. The system of vertical farming is highly dependent on the various technologies that are needed to maintain temperature, lighting and moisture. If the system was to go cold on losing power, it can result in a complete collapse. This is another reason why many researchers feel that the present energy solutions are not sufficient for vertical farming.