What is vertical Farming?
Vertical farming is a farming technique in which crops are grown in vertically stacked layers. It is done in a controlled environment using techniques that do not require soil, such as aquaponics, hydroponics, and aeroponics.
With a growing population and limited operational farmland, vertical farming may be used to meet the world’s growing food demand.
Origin of vertical Farming
Dickson Despommier pioneered the concept of vertical farming in 1999. He was a Columbia University professor of Public and Environmental Health. In order to test his students’ understanding of whether food could be grown on the rooftops of New York skyscrapers, he devised a concept in which a 30-story vertical farm grown using hydroponics and artificial light could feed approximately 50,000 people.
Although the professor’s farm was never built, the concept was popular and inspired many subsequent designs.
As a result, governments and developers all over the world would take notice of vertical farming and implement it in cities like Abu Dhabi, New York, Los Angeles, Bangalore, Dubai, and Beijing, among others. Approximately $1.8 billion was invested in start-ups working on creating new products between 2014 and November 2020.
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Techniques of vertical Farming
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants that does not require the use of soil. Plant roots are immersed in magnesium, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and other elements. These solutions help the roots, increasing yield and decreasing reliance on water.
According to studies, there is an 11-fold increase in yield compared to conventional farms while using 13 times less water. As a result, hydroponics is the most commonly used method in Vertical Farming.
Aquaponics, a slightly more advanced method than Hydroponics, combined plant and aquatic organism production in a closed loop system resembling nature itself.
Aeroponics, as the name implies, uses air to grow plants rather than solid or liquid mediums. A liquid solution is used in the air where the plants are located to absorb nutrients. It is the best method because it requires no water or soil and no growing medium.
Advantages of vertical farming
Following are the advantages of vertical farming:
Traditional farms require far too much land and water, whereas vertical farming requires far less and yields more per acre. Another advantage of vertical farming is that it can produce crops all year. Because of their individual land and plots, they can harvest more than one crop at a time.
Traditional farming is vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns and natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and wildfires, among other things. Such factors are negated in a controlled vertical farming environment, making the supply chain process less susceptible to disruption.
Vertical farming contributes to environmental conservation by reducing deforestation associated with traditional farming, which saves resources in the long run.
Producing food indoors reduces or eliminates the use of farm machinery for ploughing, planting, and harvesting, protecting soil and lowering emissions.
Disadvantages of vertical farming
Vertical farming is quite expensive, and some uses urban settings where real estate prices are high, making its maintenance costs even higher than traditional farming.
High energy consumption
During the growing season, the sun shines at such an extreme angle on a vertical surface that crops receive far less light than when planted on flat land.
As a result, additional lighting would be required.
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Labour is typically the highest operational cost for all indoor farming operations, with a small hydroponic farm spending 57% of its budget on labour on average. Vertical farming is also expected to see significant cost savings as technology advances and becomes more efficient.
A Limited Number of Crops That Can Be Grown Cconomically
A vertical farm can be tailored to grow any plant species, but only a limited number of them can be grown economically. Due to their rapid growth cycle, high cost, and short shelf life, leafy greens and herbs continue to be the primary crop in the global vertical farming industry. Leafy greens have a high profit margin, which makes them very appealing to vertical farmers, in addition to their relatively easy growing process.
Vertical farming may not be economically feasible just yet. However, the popularity of vertical farming has led many to expand their cultivation repertoire. New Jersey-based vertical farm “Oishii” by reproducing the climate conditions of Japanese mountains indoors supplies New Yorkers with vertically grown strawberries.
Use Case of Vertical Farming in Pakistan
In Pakistan, there are only a few agritech startups working in the vertical farming industry. Aether, based in Islamabad, is one of them. The company specializes in providing turnkey hydroponics farm solutions, management services, and hyperlocal produce marketing for business owners.
When asked about the initial investment and profitability of these small businesses, Zarak, the CEO of Aether, stated that they charge Rs. 2.8 million per acre for low-density farms and Rs. 3.5 million for high-density farms, with a few hundred thousand in electricity and labour running costs. According to him, the capital investment should be recovered within the first six months because each plant in a hydroponic environment produces at least five times the yield of a traditional farm.
Hydroponics is frequently chastised for being less competitive than traditional products, but Zarak argued that given the recent fertilizer price increase, hydroponics may be the only competitive option. He stated that temperatures in Bannu exceeded 50 degrees this season, but their hydroponic tomato plants continued to grow due to a controlled environment.
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Hydroponics is unquestionably an excellent tool for combating climate change and population growth because it allows us to increase average output from densely populated urban areas while causing less disruption to ecosystems. However, it still has a long way to go in Pakistan. It requires a significant initial investment with a unique market, and our farmers have yet to realize its full potential. There must be a strong push toward these environmentally friendly alternatives. Otherwise, we may be unable to meet our climate change targets while also feeding the masses.