Greenhouse emissions from current agricultural farming techniques account for an estimated 33% of the carbon emitted into the ozone every year, thats the world’s second leading emitter after the energy sector.
The Biggest Food System Emitter
Studies have found that agricultural production provides the largest section of this greenhouse-gas emissions from the food system, the next is fertilizer manufacture, followed by refrigeration and storage. On top of the environmental impact we are losing 1/3rd of all food grown during the food supply chain, higher-income counties are wasting food at the retail level and lower income countries are losing it through lack of proper storage, processing and transport.
There is a new push for more environmentally friendly efforts to reduce these numbers dramatically, and one company has been working on a solution since 2004 AeroFarms. They are placing large grow operations on critical supply chain routes close to populous city’s and delivering fresh greens to a large number of people. The vertical farming systems they have developed boast the benefits of 95% reduction in water usage and up 390% more crop growth on the same plot of land. This technology offers the possibility of growing food, at a smaller footprint, high efficiency, low labor, and far less initial investment than traditional farming.
Some key benefits of vertical farming:
A system that has potential for year round crop production, no matter weather, flooding, drought or pest.
All produce is beyond organic by default with no pesticides, or fertilizers needed with the added benefit of no agricultural runoff which scientist believe is causing the massive algae blooms and coral bleaching in our oceans.
There is potential for these facilities to be self sustaining with the use of solar and methane from composting of non-edible waste can be converted, but the technology hasn’t been fully implemented.
No diesel-burning tractors for crop production and land management. The shipping distance will be greatly reduced due to the farm’s proximity to urban center.
And some issues that need to be resolved with vertical farming:
The technology to do this is expensive and scaling issues haven’t been answered to date. Urban properties tend to be expensive, by using older buildings in rundown areas of the cities, you could potentially save on capital costs.
There’s only so much sunlight you can reliably capture with a vertical farm. Artificial light is a big part of the equation, it’s expensive and typically generated using fossil fuels.
The production of produce is only part of the equation, the other being processing, a small fraction of what we consume isn’t processed. Meaning they need to streamline the system after the growth and have facilities within a short distance of where produce is being grown. This presents its own sets of problems, such as scaling down existing processing infrastructure to go vertical, recycling waste products and waste water from processing plants, and dealing with the inevitable pollution issues.
There is a limited number of crops available to produce at this point, meaning verity of our food would be greatly reduced, but this could be a non-issue as they develop the system down the road.
While the environmental impact and benefits seem clear, the infrastructure for massive vertical farming operations are far behind. Unless a massive investment and push to make this a priority are made we are still a long way off from seeing mass adoption in to our food supply chain.
What are some pros and cons that you see in implementing vertical farming into our current systems? Do you think these are the farms of the future or just a fad?