The future of vertical farming is brighter than once thought

Synopsis: The concept of vertical farming can fix several problems faced by conventional farms.

Introduction

AeroFarms is going to be the first vertical-farming startup to be listed on the Nasdaq in the next month after it completes a merger with Spring Valley Acquisition Corp.

What is Vertical farming?

It is a system for growing food without soil or sun that for decades has thrived mainly in sci-fi films and the International Space Station.

How vertical farming can be beneficial in future?

Vertical farms can play a key role in producing local and perishable specialty crops: They can eliminate fuel-intensive long-distance trucking, along with food rot and waste.  When located in and near cities, they have the added advantage of being protected from supply chain disruptions.

Benefit drought prone areas: the technology AeroFarms and other market leaders are pioneering will benefit regions that have increasingly limited water and arable land.

Less water usage: Aeroponic farms use up to 95% less water than in-field vegetable production and grow food 30% to 40% faster. They use as little as 0.3% of the land of a field farmers.

High productivity: The company has seen a 23% increase in its yield-per-square-foot of indoor growing space in the past year alone, and has sped the grow cycle for baby leafy greens from 20 to 14 days—compared to 4 to 6 weeks in the field.

Organic produce: The plants are grown without herbicides, fungicides or insecticides, gains for both the economics and human health.

High-flavour and high-nutrient produce and high-profit ingredients for nutraceuticals: The plant data gathered by cameras and sensors have driven rapid innovations. Variables including light, moisture, nutrients, oxygen, CO2, and temperature can be monitored so precisely within a vertical farm that the flavours, nutrients and phenotypes of plants, in turn, can be manipulated.

What are some issues associated with vertical farming?

Requires more energy and technology: For example, AeroFarms has pioneered an ‘aeroponic’ system that grows plants in stacked metal trays, their roots dangling in mid-air as they’re fed a nutrient-rich mist. LED lights replace sunshine.

High cost of input: Cameras and sensors gather millions of data points tracking the needs of the plants as they grow.

Skilled human resource: This kind of hyper-controlled indoor agriculture requires an expensive labour force of engineers, plant scientists and computer programmers.

Luxury good: Vertical farming also relies on urban real estate more expensive than rural farmland. AeroFarms’ products, which include ‘baby watercress’ and ‘micro broccoli’, currently sell for $2 an ounce.

High-tech agriculture is still high-risk: Because there is no soil or other barrier to protect the roots, even a small number of bacteria in the root chamber can harm the plants.

Source: This post is based on the article “The future of vertical farming is brighter than once thought” published in Livemint on 5th October 2021.

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