In future, vegetables will be grown in vertical greenhouses, says Oliver Zastrow, asset manager at Albrecht, Kitta & Co. They already exist in selected supermarkets: new types of vertical greenhouses that look like large glass refrigerators in which vegetables and lettuces grow. Here, LEDs replace the sun, the plants take root in reusable plastic mats, a substrate solution provides the necessary nutrients and the irrigation is controlled. The technology, which at first seems rather artificial, produces amazing results: The lettuce and vegetables grown taste excellent and are extremely aromatic - in contrast to conventionally produced products, where even handsome red panicle tomatoes are characterized by a high degree of tastelessness.
The innovative cultivation method has further advantages: the use of pesticides is no longer necessary, as pests are not an issue with this new technology. In addition, artificial lighting ensures that the plants will grow for 18 hours, even in winter, which shortens the cultivation period and increases the yield. At the same time, Vertical Farming uses much less water than conventional farming methods. The savings amount to 40 percent compared to conventional greenhouses, and even 80 percent compared to cultivation in the field. The space requirement is also significantly lower. Finally, the long transport routes for the vegetables, which are usually harvested when they are still halfway ripe, are eliminated. This should also noticeably reduce the associated CO2 emissions.
High energy costs
There is, however, one decisive flaw in vertical farming. Keeping the temperature constant at about 20o, as well as lighting the produce, consumes comparatively large amounts of electricity. In a country like the Federal Republic of Germany, where energy costs are extremely high by international standards, this has a detrimental effect on the price of artificially grown food. Consequently, it is only the higher-priced hotels and restaurants in Germany that have so far ordered the expensive but high-quality products. For them, the higher purchase prices are less significant than for the cheap competition.
In countries many sun hours, where renewable energies are particularly inexpensive, the situation is quite different. In these regions in particular, water is also often scarce, which makes them virtually predestined for the new types of greenhouses - for example in the Arab countries.
While vertical farming is still in its infancy in Germany, the innovative cultivation method plays a completely different role in technology-oriented countries like the USA and Japan. Especially in the United States, the increasing legalisation of cannabis is driving the spread of the new cultivation method. It is probably less about water consumption and space savings than about the fact that vertical farming allows the properties of the plants being grown to be precisely controlled. This applies both to the aroma of lettuce and tomatoes and to the THC content of marijuana.
Source: The Investment