Producing food has always been a risky affair. Global warming and abnormal weather conditions are severe threats to the agriculture industry. And in this case, farming is both a victim and a perpetrator.
As traditional food production is at risk, we’re seeing the rise of agtech and eco-friendly vertical farming technologies that pave the way for resilient growth systems. High-rise farms are one of the concepts that can fill gaps in conventional farming. So, what is vertical farming, and how can it help farmers provide more food using fewer resources? Let’s see.
The reasons to look for sustainable food systems
Unfortunately, we need to admit that current systems are complex and unfriendly towards both people and the planet. Food production is way more harmful to the environment than the transport used to get them to our table. Beyond climate change, the limitations of our food systems include the following:
- Food crisis
Nearly 2.37 billion people didn’t have access to nutritious food in 2020. The world population will rise to an estimated 9.15 billion by 2050. As we still can’t achieve zero hunger and millions of people suffer from malnutrition, the situation will continue to get worse.
- Growing urban population
By 2025, two out of three people will live in cities. It will be an enormous challenge to ensure food supply reaches the growing urban population in the long run.
- Food waste
In a world where every ninth individual is undernourished or hungry, around 1.4 billion tons of food go to landfills. Digitalization in waste management is one of the ways to support environmentally responsible initiatives and improve the situation.
- Environmental impact
The application of pesticides, fertilizers, and other food production materials make up nearly 37 percent of all human-made emissions globally.
- Overuse of resources
Agriculture uses half of the world’s habitable land and almost 70 percent of water. Moreover, it’s the primary reason for biodiversity loss and a threat to over 24,000 species at risk of extinction.
Clearly, something needs to change in order to deliver food security in a way that won’t compromise it for future generations. Such endeavors require colossal transformations like adopting environmentally friendly agricultural practices, corporate sustainability, and vertical farming solutions to build efficient and healthy systems.
What is vertical farming? A brief overview
The concept of a farm within a skyscraper first appeared in the late 90s. Yet, the vertical farming trends started to take off not that long ago.
Building high-rise farms and cultivating crops in layers has attracted investors worldwide. For instance, Walmart invested in a VIF startup and will offer leafy greens in all California stores until the end of the year. More than 2,000 indoor farms in the USA are producing lettuce, berries, and herbs. Meanwhile, Dubai applied urban farming technology to launch the world’s largest vertical farm, producing 900 tons of fresh greens annually.
So, what is vertical farming? It’s a new approach to raising plants on top of each other, instead of rows, in a closed environment using aeroponic or vertical hydroponic farming techniques. LED lights, nutrition systems, and recycled watering substitute sunlight and rain. This method offers enormous potential, as vertical indoor farms (VIF) can produce food in every season.
Technologies that enable faster, more efficient crop and vegetable growing
Modern vertical farming solutions employ technologies that can calculate, measure, and analyze the optimal needs of a plant, including water and light requirements and much more. Such autonomous food-producing is highly flexible and maintainable with just a few people. So, which vertical farming trends and tech solutions increase precision and efficiency?
Artificial intelligence boosts the capabilities of various systems used in high-rise farms. It can work with agtech systems to ensure water and light are used efficiently throughout the farm, improving energy consumption – an area of continuous improvement. Furthermore, a smart system provides the recipe for each crop as, over time, it learns how to grow crops faster with better quality.
Here are some AI applications in modern agribusinesses:
- Early detection of crop diseases
- Price forecast
- Weather forecast
- Monitoring of growth patterns
AI algorithms can use all the data generated in the running of a vertical farming system to improve the automated operation of the system, creating a constant growth cycle.
Sensors are the backbone of vertical farming technologies that track heat, illumination, humidity, and CO2 levels. IoT devices deliver this information to the central cloud where humans or AI-enabled control systems process it and trigger various mechanisms like spraying water mist or cooling fan.
Additionally, the implementation of IoT solutions makes high-rise farms self-regulating and more modular, providing settings for different breeds of plants you can grow in one place. Numerous sensors deliver data on the health of crops in real time to provide appropriate settings for each plant to flourish.
3. Autonomous robotics
Incorporating vertical farming technologies like robotics will take your plant production to the next level by boosting productivity and accuracy while reducing ecological effects. They are now commonly applied in:
- Selective fruit harvesting
- Disease and weeds control
- Insect grafting
- Monitoring of the agricultural environment and crops
- Support of logistics
As you can see, the opportunities with urban farming technology are enormous, but to ensure it works efficiently, you can use our RPA deployment success measurement guide.
4. Agritech analytics
The increasing adoption of agritech data analytics shows that it’s one of the main vertical farming trends that will grow to $1.4 billion by 2025. It has already demonstrated excellent results in forecasting agricultural produce and increasing yields. A data-driven system and vertical farming technologies can provide safe, pure, and consistent produce year-round. Meaningful information and insightful reports are essential when there are many variables, like in the agriculture industry.
Why should you switch to vertical farming?
Indoor food production can be a solution to the most challenging aspects of conventional agriculture you face today. To cut a long story short, vertical indoor farming (VIF) will secure your agribusiness with:
- Reliable crop production. A well-monitored, protected, and managed farming environment allows you to produce seasonal fruits and vegetables without concern about changes in the weather or sunlight. There will also be less post-harvest spoilage and food waste since you can sell most of the produce in the same building you grow it.
- Better space use. With rows of in-demand herbs and veg stacked vertically, you need less space to grow more food.
- Efficient resource consumption. Vertical farming technologies reduce the use of soil and water. The recycling water system requires just 5 percent of the water an outdoor growing system requires.
- Eco-friendly growing practices. According to our global business insights, market leaders in all industries revamp their business models and strategies with a focus on sustainability and net zero. With that said, VIF reduces your food miles and waste.
- Food closer to cities. Growing out-of-season vegetables and fruits closer to customers eliminates transport emissions and food waste. Vertical farming solutions also protect from supply chain issues while delivering fresher and healthier food.
Is vertical farming a profitable business?
As it turns out, VIF has excellent earning potential. The indoor growing system demands no soil, chemicals, or heavy machinery. In practice, controlling the environment using vertical farming technologies means controlling your costs and running a business with a minimal workforce. Without profitability, the future of vertical farming would be destined to remain a pet project.
Of course, the road towards VIF profit also includes obstacles, one of which is the high upfront capital investment. Yet, financing for agribusiness reached an all-time high. You can win one of the numerous government grants for renovating your agribusiness and attract investors who are eager to support innovation.
We encourage you to get acquainted with vertical farming at your own pace and with agtech solutions designed for your needs. Our automation services are scalable, so it is up to you to decide how big or small you want to start. TEAM International aligns sustainability with progress in an automated workflow. Our detailed model will help you understand the potential scale of the solution and possible ROI in achieving your business goals.
How will more sustainable indoor farming change agriculture?
There will no longer be seasonality of food, and any fruit, herb, or vegetables are grown without chemicals will be available from neighborhood buildings at the peak of freshness. Basically, we’ll be able to raise any crop anywhere all year round.
Given the eco-friendly tech solutions and sustainable food growing techniques, the future of vertical farming looks prospective. Valued at $3.1 billion in 2021, it will reach $9.7 billion by 2026. So, we can expect it to become an essential part of our food industry that will redefine the agriculture sector.