The Earth’s Ever Growing Population and How to Feed it

PopulationTrain

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.

Hydroponics

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.

Freight+Farms_2016+LGM+Interior+8-250kb

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?

Sources

https://www.freightfarms.com/

https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html

 

 

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19 thoughts on “The Earth’s Ever Growing Population and How to Feed it

  1. Vertical farming is a really cool way of growing crops; however, it seems strange to me. The idea that plants are grown with artificial light seems concerning. Also, while it is sealed, bugs always seem to find a way in, and with all the water, I think they’re would be a high risk of mold. I am in no way trying to be pessimistic, but just a few things I think need to be looked at and prepared for. I believe vertical agriculture is going to be one of our next steps in growing our food source in an environmentally friendly way.

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  2. In a technical way, the idea appeals to me as an engineer seeking a solution to a problem. As a human, the idea of separating the land with the food we eat makes me sad; like we are losing a part of us. Granted, in recent decades, we’ve abused our land pretty heavily, so for the land’s sake that we’re so intimately connected to the repose would be nice. I doubt the idea would sit well with farmers who have been working the land for generations either. On the other hand, the number of farmers are already falling fast, so its not like that culture is flourishing and this shift would kill it. I do, however, wonder about the psychological affects it would have on people’s understanding of nature and food. Our ethic and understanding of food is already on the rocks with industrial agriculture, and this movement may save the land but shatter our valuation of food. In antiquity, food used to be the provision of the land for a living. In increasingly developed nations, there’s a high risk of food perspectives devolving from something of high value to appreciate into more of a technical product that we earn and are entitled to. The former connects us to our land and supports a high valuation of its well-being; the latter seems more distant…I guess I’m just trying to say that I fear for our view of food, and whether it would sever us further from our ancestors psychologically. Any push back will be welcome on this. I’m still working through the line of thinking here…

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  3. The idea of growing food on a large scale like this to me just doesn’t seem like it would be the best idea. These types of growing facilities are effective when you think about the amount of food that they have the potential to produces, but the downside to them is the that they use a lot of electricity.

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  4. I agree with the second comment. While I think that it is a neat solution and I’m curious where this could take us, it just feels really weird that it has come down to this. As of right now, this is the only solution that I have heard to this problem. Since we obviously can’t control the population, this seems to be our only option. I would be curious to see how this technology could scale, both to large scale and down to individual scale.

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  5. Very interesting article. With the exponential population growth we have been seeing, there is a necessity to determine sufficient ways to supply food to everyone. Traditional farming won’t suffice because it will destroy our environment. We will have to use so much land, water, and energy that it will be determinate to the health of our planet. Vertical farming is something I am not to familiar with but sounds like a great idea. My only concern at this stage would be the cost to build and run one of these. Perhaps once the idea becomes commercialized the cost will go down. Right now it seems that it is a very expensive way to produce food. Just because it is expensive doesn’t mean we should stray away from it. It would be far better to pay a little extra for food than to have to destroy our planet.

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  6. I think the idea of vertical farming is good, in the sense that it takes less land and raise more. However, with it being inside a room consuming that much electricity is concerning and make me question whether that trade off is worth it. If there is a way we can still keep the structures outside, I think it would be great since it will use less land.

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  7. The idea of vertical farming is an interesting option for the future, however with our current technology it doesn’t seem feasible. The energetic requirements and cost seem to counterbalance the benefits associated with drastically reducing water consumption. It does have potential if we can begin using renewable energies more and more in our energy generation portfolio.

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  8. This is a very interesting solution, but I think there are other options to exhaust before we start pouring money into something that will not return the investment put into it. The book mentions how much efficiency has improved in the past few decades, and I think this is far from over. I think technology will continue to drive change in the agriculture field, and we will do more on less land than before. This will for sure aid in feeding the projected masses. Overall good read, thanks.

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  9. Indoor growing will be important for a growing industry for the near future due to the fact that you can grow vertically. this will be a great tradeoff despite the additional energy use. This can be counteracted by using solar panels to power the building

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  10. Vertical farming seems like a great idea. I think the only downfall is the fact that this introduces an increased demand of energy. Inevitably, another problem will arise with the introduction of indoor farming, like the immense amount of capital that indoor farming will need with almost no return on investment. Farming is a tough industry, because saturation from a harvest can drive prices down, bringing another problem into the mix. Overall, great idea, but tough implementation.

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  11. Wonder how quickly this rollout will occur in the coming years. Cities should honestly be trying to attract such vertical farming operations on their empty industrial lots to not only bring agriculture closer to the population, but also bring in economic revenue. Another thing that I thought about is if it is still such a new technology or even a lack of knowledge keeping vertical farming from being scaled up or if there are some political hindrances in the way (aka subsidizing large farming operations or lobbying). In the future this method definitely seems like a good way to go for vegetables, but I wonder if there will be misinformation or hyperbolic statements against the farming like we saw/still see with GMO crops where people will freak out over their food being raised in a shipping container. On that note however, I wonder what methods they use to acquire the shipping crates – as in do they re-purpose old ones? If so what cleaning methods do they use and is their potential for runoff from the casing or even tainting the crop inside? Or do they stick to using new crates?

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  12. This sounds cool but would it be able to reach people in developing countries – the ones who are going to be most susceptible to lack of food? As we just read, America already has an overabundance of food hence why its so cheap and accessible. Wealthier nations have the ability to use this technology plus buy food from other countries. Those in developing countries live off the land that they harvest and, without secure infrastructure or the ability to buy food from more expensive countries, they are susceptible to the ebbs and flows of nature.

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  13. Thanks for posting this! After reading the the textbook chapter on food and agriculture this week, this is a really cool response to some of the issues that the book presented. While this method of farming may have its own list of environmental issues, it is cool to see that the sustainability issues with agriculture and traditional growing practices are being addressed with new innovations!

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  14. I enjoyed reading this article about vertical farming and new ways to be more efficient in or agriculture. One thing that I wonder is the cost and environmental effect these buildings have. One thing not really discussed was the cost and consumption to actually create this buildings, along with the possible deforestation to clear land to place this buildings. It just seems slightly counterintuitive to me to gain a slight advantage and be slightly more efficient but in order to do that you have to clear land, build a large scale facility, and pay costs to keep it running. I would like to see, however, usage of older or abandoned buildings for these methods of farming.

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  15. These are some interesting forms of farming that I’ve never heard of. I hope they are efficient enough to keep up with our growing population. I wonder what third world countries are doing to compensate for their increases in population.

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  16. Awesome post, I feel like this type of vertical farming could be very viable. In addition, I recently read an article about a new, almost completely transparent and cheap, type of solar photovoltaic glass. It almost looks like stained glass, so if this type of farming was implemented in a green house covered with this type of glass it could be extremely sustainable.

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  17. Thanks for posting this, it was super interesting! It seems like, at least at the stage of development it is at now, this idea might be something that works really well on a small scale, but is difficult to scale up sustainably. Like many of the other comments mentioned, the use of electricity could become an issue when trying to produce food this way on a large scale, but on a smaller scale it seems like a really great option!

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  18. Great read! Although it may seem like this would be hard to achieve on large scale, maybe it could act as motivation for people to produce their own food locally!

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  19. Vertical farming is something I find fascinating. It makes sense to me to use this type of farming in the city, where local farms may not be able to provide food for such a large population. With vertical farms, more people would be able to have access to nutritious, fresh greens that normally would not. I also think that storage container farms and urban farms are a good solution to solving food desserts within cities.

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