It’s now possible to produce large and consistent quantities and quality of food using revolutionary vertical farming methods. But are there enough indoor farming advantages to make it the future of modern agriculture?
In this article, Cambridge HOK examines why vertical farming could have a big role to play in the future of global food production.
1. Reliable year-round crop production
The biggest vertical farming benefit is the fact it’s not dependent on the weather – meaning you can achieve a consistent year-round crop production without worrying about the impact of adverse weather conditions can have both on quality and profiling of production and yield.
Farming in a protected, well-monitored and managed environment brings assurance and peace of mind for growers providing repeatable programmable production.
By eliminating the effects of mother nature, there’s no such thing as a 'seasonal crop' and growers won’t suffer from losses as they try to push the production windows of ‘seasonal cropping’.
They can also successfully reduce harvest times and improve volume without compromising on flavour or quality, which always remains 100% consistent. Indeed, flavour and shelf life have consistently been able to demonstrate improved attributes when using an indoor vertical growing system, when designed and managed correctly.
This allows commercial growers to confidently commit to the delivery schedules and offtake agreements demanded by their customers.
2. Unaffected by adverse weather conditions
Growing in a fully enclosed and climate-controlled environment completely eradicates the need to rely on - or worry about - the weather.
Whereas crops in a field can be ruined by excessive rain, wind and drought (or pests!); vertical farming provides 100% harvest certainty.
3. Better use of space
It goes without saying that traditional farms need fertile arable land. But vertical farms can be designed and built in any climate or location - irrespective of weather conditions or temperature extremes.
And because their stacking grow systems allow them to expand upwards, it’s also possible to achieve higher productivity on a small land area.
Depending on which crop is grown, one acre of vertical farm could consistently grow the equivalent to between 10 or 20 soil-based acres.
4. Minimise water usage
One of the main vertical farming benefits is that the Hydroponic growing process only uses about 10% of the amount of water, and as a result the nutrients and fertilisers, compared to traditional methods. Because the water is clean after usage, it also allows it to be recycled and reused, reducing costs and minimising waste.
5. Environmentally friendly
Indoor farming can be good for the environment because it massively reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed for farming equipment which is not required to sow, fertilize, weed or harvest crops.
Vertical farming also helps to improve biodiversity because it does not cause land surface disturbance, which helps the natural animal population which lives in and around farms to thrive.
6. No chemicals or pesticides
Growing food in a vertical farm, when managed correctly offers the opportunity to completely eliminates the need for pesticides - as pests cannot enter the controlled environment to cause crop damage and fungal diseases struggle to gain a foot hold as humidity levels are managed.
The end result is a product which is better, healthier, safer and featuring dry leaves which are clean and ready to eat.
7. Reduce transport costs
When it comes to food production, the last-mile delivery is usually the most expensive part of the supply chain. And it’s not uncommon for crops to be shipped across continents and oceans.
Growing food closer to where the consumer lives is a massive vertical farming benefit as it can massively reduce transportation costs, CO2 emissions and reduce the need for refrigerated storage – making produce fresher and more profitable.
8. Highly energy efficient
Whilst the use of LED lighting requires a significant amount of power to achieve optimum growth, vertical farms can also generate power.
Cambridge HOK specialises in renewable technologies and combined heat and power (CHP) solutions which can harness excess energy to be reused elsewhere in your business or transferred back to the national grid.
9. Safe for staff
Traditional farming has gained an unwanted reputation for being a workplace fraught with health and safety risks. With no heavy machinery or chemicals used for indoor farming, it obviously does not boast the same occupational hazards - significantly reducing the risk of injury.
10. Low labour costs
Fully automated indoor growing systems do not need huge amounts of manual labour to achieve successful year-round production. People with low-level skills are still required to sort and pack harvests, but labour overheads will remain low – even if production is scaled upwards.