CAFRE’S Kieran Lavelle discusses vertical farming (VF), elements of the growing procedure, its benefits and potential for the future.
Vertical farming (VF) is a technologically advanced plant production system. It produces food that has the potential to be more sustainable than conventional food production.
There is a need to increase food production by 60% by 2050 to meet global demands, with the need for water increasing by 50%.
VF is a soilless, stacked growing system, where operators control all elements of the growing procedure.
These controls include:
- Carbon dioxide;
- Oxygen supply to plants.
Vertical farming (VF) – the benefits
VF has the potential to preserve many of the resources that conventional practices exploit. Furthermore, water efficiency can be 95% more favourable than a conventional production.
The sustainable potential of VF is significant. As water usage is minimal, zero pesticides, reduced fertilisers and zero peat needed, the future potential for these growing structures is huge.
Also, the stacked growing system also reduces the land print of the growing systems. In turn, it reduces the land required to produce plant products.
With zero pesticide inputs and reduced fertiliser requirements, VF shows the potential to alleviate the environmental stresses of food production.
You can contain the growing systems within purpose-built buildings or modules. Besides, producers have also retrofitted them into existing grow houses, such as mushroom tunnels.
In a closed-looped system, water and nutrients are circulated and recycled, vastly increasing the water-saving potential of the system.
Lettuce in VF system
Lettuce has been produced in a VF system at 100 kg per square metre. This is compared to 4 kg in an open field or 41 kg in a glasshouse.
However, the electricity input to operate the LED and HVAC systems could be three times higher than that of a conventional glasshouse system.
The high energy costs required to provide the necessary light for photosynthesis and to control climatic conditions in the closed environment, reduce the economic potential of the technology, but growers with access to alternative energy sources could embrace VF.
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