Glasshouse vs vertical farming, what's the difference?
Glasshouse farming and vertical farming are two of the most popular methods of indoor farming with controlled environment agriculture. In this blog, we will examine the differences between glasshouse farming and vertical farming and explore their respective advantages and disadvantages. We will also look at how these two methods can work together in a hybrid approach.
What is glasshouse farming?
Glasshouse farming, often known as greenhouse farming, is the practice of cultivating plants in a controlled environment made of glass or other transparent materials. When compared to outdoor farming, this regulated environment can result in faster growth, bigger yields, and higher-quality crops.
For glasshouse farming, your key considerations will include the location, cost, and preferred crop selection. Glasshouse farming requires ample space and access to sunlight, which may be a problem for you if you only have a small amount of land to grow on.
This kind of farming system also has initial set-up and maintenance costs, especially if you're opting for climate control systems or specialised equipment. The need for climate control systems, heating, and lighting can also lead to higher energy costs.
A glasshouse is better suited for crops that require plenty of sunlight, such as strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, or peppers. Though if you're interested in crops that require a more controlled environment, leafy greens may not be as successful, so this system may not be the best choice for all growers. For those looking for a totally controlled environment that allows for more thorough customisation of plants, then a vertical farm may be right for you.
What is vertical farming?
Vertical farming, or indoor vertical farming, is the technique of growing plants vertically, rather than horizontally along the ground, like in traditional farming. To enhance crop yield, this modern method of food production employs advanced technologies such as LED lighting, closed-loop water recycling, and precise climate control.
One of the best things about a vertical farm is its total controlled climate. This means you can grow starter plants in perfect conditions for optimal growth, or grow crops that can’t normally be grown in UK climates.
Vertical farms are essentially massive vending machines for growing food and plants that can be erected in unused urban areas or adapted into warehouses. Vertical farms can be constructed in remote areas where greenhouse or open-field farming is not practical because of a lack of arable land, adverse weather, or a lack of water.
Building vertical farms near the site of food production, distribution, and consumption (e.g., food manufacturing, supermarkets, and consumers) lowers transportation miles and increases product shelf life, resulting in less food waste.
When it comes to this type of farm, your considerations will need to include the space you have available, the cost of setting up the farming system, and the crop selection you're planning on producing.
They also require less land than a traditional open-field farm, which makes them ideal for urban areas where space is limited. The system can also be retrofitted in existing warehouses. This means vertical farms can achieve higher yields in smaller spaces. Though, due to the specialised equipment and lighting systems required, as well as higher energy costs, a vertical farm can be expensive to set up and run.
While vertical farms can be used to grow a wide range of crops, including leafy greens, herbs, and some fruits and vegetables, some crops will still be better suited to traditional farming practices.
Glasshouse farming and vertical farming: The hybrid approach
Glasshouses and vertical farms are two of the most popular methods of controlled environment agriculture, sharing the goal of creating a more efficient growing environment. Though there are some key considerations when choosing which one of these two individual methods, or a hybrid approach, would work for you.
Both of these methods can be used in conjunction with one another, this is called the hybrid approach, to create an even more controlled and efficient growing environment. For example, glasshouse farming can be used to grow crops that require more space, while vertical farms can be used to grow crops that require less space or more precise climate control. This can lead to higher yields, more consistent production, and a wider range of crops.
Vertical farms also work in parallel to existing technologies to optimise the use of each solution to its best strengths. In fact, one of the best way to utilise the strengths of both vertical farming and glasshouse farming is to grow your starter plants in a vertical farm.
Let’s use a UK-based grower who imports their starter plants from the EU as an example. This grower is constantly dealing with supply chain concerns and receiving poor-quality harvests, especially now that geopolitical complications have added to logistical challenges.
The benefits of using vertical farming to grow your starts include:
- Transport costs are reduced when starter plants are grown close to home
- A more controlled growing environment increases yields, shortens timescales, and makes outputs easier to forecast while reducing inputs, interventions, and labour costs
- Profit increases if healthy starter plants are guaranteed
- In some cases, farmers can potentially add an additional crop cycle throughout the year to earn extra income
- Vertical farming systems reduce the need for imports, which is especially important during a time when purchasing plants and other supplies from the EU is costly
What is controlled environment agriculture?
Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a technology-based approach to food production used to optimise the growing environment and resource usage, but in glasshouses and indoor systems, CEA is reactive and can often produce inconsistent results. IGS takes CEA to the next level with Total Controlled Environment Agriculture. TCEA offers constant and predictable plant production in any acceptable area, particularly where open field or glasshouse production is neither possible nor viable.
Introducing IGS Growth Towers
An IGS vertical farm provides you with a productive, efficient, and sustainable growing environment. Our proprietary power system, lighting control, and automation, are designed to provide total control over climate variables such as nutrition supply, airflow, and temperature while increasing efficiency.
Imagine a field divided into six-metre-squared trays the size and shape of a snooker table, stacked on top of one another, and powered by a renewable energy source—this is an IGS Growth Tower. IGS technology produces the ideal 18-hour summer day 365 days a year, resulting in localised, consistent, high-quality harvests. Because our infrastructure is flexible, companies can add Growth Towers without interrupting existing output.
The platform offers precision, multi-level growing by combining the following:
- Precise control of multi-spectra lighting;
- Automated and vertically stacked racking system
- Uniform airflow controlled on a per Growth Tray with Lights (GTL) basis
- Integrated and automated fertigation and nutrition
Our Growth Towers can be erected in a variety of configurations, ranging from a single tower to hundreds. This allows large or industrial production to take advantage of economies of scale.
Modern agricultural practices can be used in conjunction with traditional agriculture to provide a more sustainable future for food production. Investing in a vertical farming system for starting plants can solve many supply chain concerns and increase profits for you. Meanwhile, glasshouse farming remains an excellent option for growers of crops that require a lot of sunlight. Using a hybrid approach can lead to higher yields, more consistent production, and a wider range of crops, making it an optimal choice for some.