Before you dive into this article too deeply, take a moment to read the following description, and then close your eyes for a second. Imagine yourself standing inside a climate-controlled, high-ceiling warehouse. In front of you stands a tower with eight irrigated levels, on each of which lettuces, herbs, microgreens, and baby greens grow under LED lights. Robotics bring trays with young plants from outside into the right position in the growing tower, while on the other end fully grown crops are taken out, ready to be harvested. Can you see it? You are standing in Urban Crop Solutions’ PlantFactory – an indoor vertical farm – a highly engineered manufacturing plant producing not goods, but crops.
Global food and water challenges
By 2050, the world will have an additional 2.5 billion mouths to feed – 70% of which will live in urban areas. Meanwhile, 80% of the worlds arable land is already in use, existing agriculture is placing an ever-increasing toll on the environment, and the symptoms of climate change are threatening our food production capacity. You need not look further than the global record-breaking droughts we have witnessed in 2018 to see the strain under which the system finds itself. Moving the production of crops indoors and thinking vertically clears up vast areas of land.
By some estimates, indoor vertical farming is 350 times more productive per square meter of footprint than outdoor farming. Moreover, an indoor farm can be located anywhere in the world supplying any area with locally grown crops. This reduces the heavy logistics in the current distribution system and provides higher nutritional value for the consumers by limiting the time between harvest and consumption. As such, a higher degree of food safety can be guaranteed without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. Compared to open field farming, a hydroponic vertical farm (plants positioned with roots in nutrient-rich water instead of soil) also uses up to 95% less water per plant.