There are 7.6 billion people on the planet right now. The UN projects that number to be 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. That’s a 29% increase in just the next 32 years. This begs the question how are we going to feed all these people? The way we have dealt with this problem so far has been by making food production more intensive adding more fertilizers, more pesticides, chop down more trees, and use a lot more water. This solution has put many additional stresses on our natural environment such as eutrophication of our surface water, exhausting our ground water supplies, and eroding our soils to name a few.
The solution is to take even greater control of the growing process. It’s called many different things vertical farming, indoor agriculture, urban farming they all mean the same thing. The most common method for vertical farming is hydroponics which uses water rather than soil to deliver nutrients to plants.
The water can be recycled over and over again and the only losses are those that end up in the plant and what is evaporated. In traditional agriculture most of the water you add is lost to runoff. You don’t need nearly as many fertilizers either because like the water you aren’t losing them in runoff anymore. There are a couple variations on hydroponics aquaponics and aeroponics. Aquoponics adds fish to the water reservoir and uses their waste to feed the plants. Aeroponics uses mist rather than flowing water to conserve even more water.
Hydroponics can exist in many different forms with varying degrees of human control from the basic greenhouse all the way to shipping container farms that can control every aspect of the environment. In the latter example a farmer can control the light, temperature, humidity, nutrients, water, and the amount of CO2 available. There are already companies today that sell ready to use shipping container farms. One such company is Freight Farms.
Farms like this produce a lot more than their traditional counterparts. An acre of indoor growing space can produce the same amount of food as 10-20 acres of traditional farming depending on what crops and the degree of control used. In addition because the plants are isolated from the outside they don’t need any pesticides. Shipping container farms can be placed almost anywhere allowing food to be grown locally even in places that normally would not such as cities and places with harsh climates.
There are drawbacks however the first being increased energy use. In the case of Freight Farms theirs uses 125 kWh everyday. Another downside is you can’t grow any crop this way at least not cost effectively. Right now they are largely limited to leafy greens and herbs. They can easily be used for most vegetables but it wouldn’t be cost effective to try and grow fruit trees this way.
Vertical Farming has the potential to be scaled up dramatically and supply a significant portion of our food supply and meet our increasing demand for food. If the conditions are right it could replace large parts of our traditional agriculture and allow areas to return to a more natural state while also reducing many of the pollutants associated with agriculture.
What future do you see Vertical Farming having in our global food supply?
How do you think we will meet the challenges of feeding the worlds growing population?