Oct 18, 2018

Vertical Farming in Cities: The Future or an Economic Nightmare?


Vertical Farming has been gaining steam for some years now, but hasn’t received anywhere near as much media coverage as it deserves.


So whatis Vertical Farming?



It’s the ingenious and revolutionary process of growing produce in vertically stacked layers. Growing is practiced via various methods, such as less soil, hydroponic and aeroponic. 


They’re usually grown in enclosed structures, similar to greenhouses which stack vertically for better light exposure. 


Vertical farming is a method that’s been developed to combat both lack of space and more serious environmental issues. It’s ideal for cities, deserts and mountain sides. However, since urban regions hold a large, dense population, the focus is naturally prioritized there. 



While it undoubtedly seems a sustainable long-term and viable option from the outside, the burgeoning industry faces all kinds of challenges and obstacles.


For one, the economic struggle. The costs of produce through vertical farming are far more than the average produce available at market. The downside is that costs are going to continue rising until investment scales.


This is despite the fact that Plenty, an industry leader was recently granted a $200 million funding from SoftBank Vision Fund.



Plenty used this money to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farm outside Seattle, USA, with the promise of producing 4.5 million pounds of greens annually. They also plan to experiment with things such as strawberries and tomatoes, which haven’t yet been produced en masse in vertical farms.


In order to make profits from these products, vertical farming is going to have to become a $140 billion industry


Henry Gordon-Smith, Agritecture'sConsulting Founder and Managing Director shared the insight that they first need to prove that consumers are demandingproduce grown indoors. Because of the lack of demand, several vertical farming operations haven’t yet reached full year-round production.


Energy and equipment costs are undoubtedly the biggest expenses for Vertical Farming (in addition to labour). They bring costs of operation up to a whopping $27 per square foot! On the plus side, Agritecture's report revealed that a 100,000 square foot area can run at one-third of the costs with the help of natural sunlight and advanced automation.


Critics of Vertical Farming rightfully point out that the industry is relying heavily on technology that hasn’t been invented yet. But the positive is that between 2016 and 2017, investment in Vertical Farming grew 653 percent, skyrocketing from $36 million to $271 million.



Dubai is taking huge steps when it comes to investment in this sector. The UAE is well-known as one of the most water-scarce regions in the Middle East. Emirateshas taken the initiative along with agri-tech firm Crop One,opening up a 130,000 square foot facility costing $40 million. The facility will be used for Emirates Flight Catering, which prepares up to 225,000 meals every day from Dubai International Airport.


Light companies are now working on LED technology to make the conversion of electricity more efficient. This will be a huge step forward in cost-cutting for Vertical Farming.



Crop One’s upcoming target will be to include more solar energy.


On the flip side, Neil Mattson, a leading researcher at Cornell University who has completed a detailed study on Vertical Farming, revealed that their carbon footprint is much higher than that of a greenhouse. 


However, despite this criticism, he’s one of the biggest supporters of Vertical Farming, hoping that his research will help the industry become more sustainable long-term. “Vertical Farming is not a fad,” he said. “I’m not sure to what degree it’s going to scale up, but this is happening. So we need to understand the economic and environmental implications — both the good and the bad.”



There are still questions to be answered when it comes to Vertical Farming. However, as space becomes less available, it’s time to face the facts — it is the future.


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