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The world’s population is growing at an exponential rate, by 2050 it’s estimated that there will be 9.7 billion of us on the planet. This puts pressures on all our resources, there needs to be enough to support the entire population.
Controlled Environmental Agriculture
Already, around 795 million people are not getting access to enough food and nutrition to support a healthy life, and the problem is only expected to be exacerbated as competition for food source grows. In addition to this, there will be increasing competition for use of land space. So the challenge is, to find a way to grow more food in a smaller space.
The last decade or so has seen an influx in investment in controlled environmental agriculture in tall buildings. It’s a concept that allows produce to be grown independent of sunlight, rainfall, and soil, inside of tall buildings that use the vertical space to save on utilization of square footage on the ground.
2012 saw the opening of the world’s first commercial vertical farm in Singapore. Other countries have followed suit, with the Growing Underground in London, which has converted a second world war bomb shelter into a hydroponics farm. The US has several locations like this, most notably the largest in New Jersey which was built inside an abandoned steel mill, it has the capabilities to produce around two million pounds of leafy greens annually.
Aeroponics is the technology utilized within these vertical farms, it allows for crops to be grown in vertical stacks of plant beds without input from natural sources such as light, water, and soil. It is an example of what is known as precision agriculture. Supporters claim that it can grow more crops per square foot than conventional farming, and that’s even without accounting for the vertical stacked space, on pure ground space alone more crops can be grown because conditions can be precisely determined to make them perfect for the particular crop. The space in New Jersey claims to be able to grow 70 times more crops than a conventional farm.
While there are clear benefits to this type of farming, it is still questioned whether it is economically viable. Below we discuss the benefits and drawbacks.
By 2050 it’s estimated that 70% of people will reside in urban areas. Development of vertical farming will bring both food source and jobs to urban areas. These projects draw in millions of dollars in terms of investment, which can benefit the local area. Also, the produce grown in these locations is free of fertilizers or pesticides, making them a safer option for both consumers and the environment. Further to this, other factors such as the air quality can be controlled for, resulting in a cleaner, greener crop.
One of the most obvious advantages is that vertical farming solves the problem of needing to produce higher quantities of food in a smaller space. Agriculture in tall buildings is not only a response to the food crisis, but it also allows land previously used for farming to be returned to its natural state.
Another benefit is that vertical farming often uses old abandoned sites as places to convert into agricultural production centers. The repurposing of buildings helps to create sustainable societies, reducing on wastage and economically using space that has no purpose.
Finally, the fact that agriculture in buildings does not rely on natural forces means that crops can be grown year-round, benefiting those communities who have short growing seasons.
Whilst there is a myriad of positives, vertical farming also has significant drawbacks. To begin with, there is concern over the fact that organic certification is not granted to foods not grown in soil, which may defer potential consumers from trusting crops produced in this way.
Also, a fundamental setback is that these technologies require huge investments to get them off the ground, and therefore they will not be available in the communities who are struggling for food source and could benefit most from this technology.
However, despite these setbacks, controlled environmental agriculture in tall buildings is still in its infancy. It is predicted that this type of farming will transform the sector, but at this point, big investment is required to get these centers up and running.
Sources and Further Reading