Vertical Farming- Is it viable?

Vertical farming is a relatively new invention, or rather, plan, gaining pace only in the 1950’s.

Due to the large amount of agricultural produce required by booming populations, land has severely shrunk. So doesn’t it make sense to stack up farmlands upwards, thus increasing land without horizontally consuming it?

The idea is quite intriguing, and could be possible thanks to the advanced technology allowing crops to be grown in manufactured conditions.

Due to massive advancements in technology, especially in glasshouse industries, conditions required for specific crops can be replicated. Air humidity, lighting, airflow, temperature and other stimuli can be varied according to each crop’s needs. By placing these vertical farms primarily in cities and other urban centers, it can massively reduce transport costs, and other environmentally degrading effects associated with it.

Hydroponics, a method of growing plants without needing soil, can be the vital cog around which this type of farming centers. It involves suspending the roots in a solution, or other medium, which have all the necessary nutrients. It virtually eliminates the need of soil, so massive amounts of soil need not be transferred to the farms.

However, it has its downfalls, and this can impair vertical farming’s ability to the lead the way in future.

This scheme has a fundamental flaw. It is highly dependent on artificial lighting, which eliminates its positive effects. Artificial lighting is costly, and has a high carbon footprint. Using only natural sunlight wouldcreate an uneven yield since plants closest to the windows would achieve maximum growth. Natural sunlight would not be able to wholly support the system, so this renders glass windows useless in generating maximum amount of harvest.

Renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, would require large areas to place solar panels. This contradicts the original plan of reducing farmland (the same applies to wind energy or hydro energy).

Many inventions have come up which may allow the use of natural sunlight. One involves putting the plants on a rotatory gauge, ensuring they all get equal sunlight. But this is time-consuming, and works on a smaller scale.

To bring about this farming technique closer to the present, another scheme has been devised. These techniques and technologies can be employed on rooftops in skyscrapers. It has already been introduced in Singapore, although on a small-scale, nevertheless it has been quite successful.

This may be the way forward, as it can allow for current spaces to be used effectively. Vertical farming may be a thing of the future, but this form of “urban hydroponics” can bring it closer to the present. It allows for greater crop production, saves valuable resources, can cut carbon footprint, thus providing an environmentally friendly way of dealing with higher food demand.

Recyclable energy provided by these kind of farms, especially biomass, can provide for the higher energy requirements. It is an idea which has been considered by many experts on the field, so further encouragement, especially through demand for its products, can allow it to kick-start. Retail stores can grow their own food on top of their outlets, cities can provide for themselves, and transport can be reduced by a great amount. By working towards such clean options, even its negative effects can be negated through improved technology envisioned in the future.

Varun Srivatsan

Image Source []