The Importance of Integrated Farming Systems & Vertical Farming in Sustainable Agriculture

The Importance of Integrated Farming Systems & Vertical Farming in Sustainable Agriculture In today's world, agriculture faces many challenges, such as climate change, food security, and environmental degradation. Integrated farming offers a comprehensive solution to these challenges by combining different farming practices. In this article, we explore the benefits of integrated farming, focusing particularly on vertical farming, and how it can help address some of the world's most pressing agricultural issues.

Written by
Paul Terrell
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The Importance of Integrated Farming Systems & Vertical Farming in Sustainable Agriculture

In today's world, agriculture faces many challenges, such as climate change, food security, and environmental degradation. Integrated farming offers a comprehensive solution to these challenges by combining different farming practices. In this article, we explore the benefits of integrated farming, focusing particularly on vertical farming, and how it can help address some of the world's most pressing agricultural issues.

What is an integrated farming system?

An integrated farming system is a holistic approach to agricultural production, which involves a variety of different farming practices such as crop cultivation, livestock rearing, aquaculture and more. The aim of this type of farming is to create a self-sufficient system that maximises resources whilst reducing waste and environmental impacts.

Integrated farming offers a sustainable and resilient approach to agriculture that can benefit both farmers and the environment. These practices are increasingly seen as an important component of sustainable development and a way to address some of the world's most pressing challenges, such as soil degradation, water pollution from excessive fertiliser use, greenhouse gas emissions, and the loss of biodiversity.

These farming techniques can also apply to different kinds of agricultural systems, such as vertical farms, glasshouses, hydroponic farms and much more.

How do integrated vertical farming systems work?

Integrated farming systems work through the principles of symbiosis, where different components of a system work together to support each other. For example, a vertical farm can be used at the propagation phase of growing for crops such as tree seedlings or strawberry runners, which are then transplanted into glasshouses or poly tunnels.

Vertical Farming also makes use of natural methods to control pests and diseases, removing the need for protective chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. They may also conserve resources like water and energy, through techniques such as closed-loop fertigation and UV water filtering, or through renewable energy sources like solar power.

What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is a type of integrated farming system which involved the process of growing upwards, similar to a multi-level car park, rather than horizontally along the ground like open-field agricultural production.

This farming system is an essential part of the solution to global challenges currently faced by humanity, such as CO2 emissions from inefficient food supply chains, emissions from transport miles, scarcity of water, and arable land.

IGS' vertical farms are called growth towers, which are essentially giant vending machines for growing crops and plants which can be built on vacant urban land or retrofitted in warehouses. They can be built in rural locations where greenhouse or open-field farming is impossible because of a lack of arable land, inclement weather or water scarcity.

In regions where space is at a premium, our solution, with a footprint of just 100 square metres, can grow enough crops over one year to fill a football (soccer) pitch.

Why are integrated farming systems important?

Integrated farming systems are becoming more and more important as the world struggles with many social and environmental problems.  

  • The world's population recently hit 8 billion, and it's continuously growing and estimates say we need to produce 60% more food by 2050 to meet the needs of our population, now expected to hit 9.3 billion by the same time.  
  • Despite the need for more food production, we're losing the arable land the earth offers. On top of this, farming as we know it contributes to soil erosion and pollution, and agriculture accounts for 70% of all freshwater use on the planet.  
  • Extreme weather events are also leading to unpredictable yields and reduced profits for businesses. In 2022, the biggest drought in 20 years has been declared in eight out of 14 areas in the UK. 4 Record temperatures have caused farmers to lose plantings of peas, sowings of broad beans, baby spinach, salad heads and berries because the heat had cooked them. 5 In addition, heat waves also cause fruits and berries to ripen faster, resulting in smaller produce, which may mean farmers lose out if it doesn’t live up to supermarkets’ high standards
  • As climate change worsens, and political tensions arise, there is also a concern around food imports. Only half of the food people in the UK eat is actually grown here. In fact, two countries (Spain and the Netherlands) are responsible for 69% of imports of fresh vegetables and four countries account for 44% of fresh fruit imports into the UK.  Lowering our dependence on imports means more localised food production within the UK for economic growth and food security.

An integrated farming system can help to combat these issues. Below we outline some of the benefits of this system.

Free Field of Plants in Greenhouse Stock Photo

Increased food security

Integrated farming systems can help to provide a reliable source of food local to consumption, as well as increase food production by make better use of the space and resources around them.

Building solutions such as vertical farming close to the point of food production, distribution and consumption (e.g. food manufacturing, supermarkets and consumers) also reduces food miles which in turn reduces food waste.

Our vertical farms can be located almost anywhere in the world, including urban environments and because we recycle around 94% of water used in the system, they are perfect for climates where water scarcity is a concern.

Resilience to disease

Through the promotion of biodiversity and a reduction in protective chemicals, integrated farming helps to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks in crops. This can help to reduce the reliance on synthetic pesticides, which can have negative effects on the environment.

In modern vertical farming systems, crops are grown in clean and bio-secure environments without the use of pesticides. As a result, vertically farmed crops don’t need washed which extends the shelf life of the produce.

Climate change mitigation

One-quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from the food and agriculture industry. Integrated farming systems help lower this carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a variety of methods, such as reducing the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers which are associated with significant carbon emissions during their production and application. By reducing the use of such chemicals, soil health and pollution can be reduced.

Diversified income streams

Through the integration of a variety of farming systems, farmers can take advantage of diversified income streams. For example, imagine you could support your existing farming system with a steady income from an additional crop, something like basil, which can be grown from seed to harvest in an IGS Growth Tower. This technology gives your buyers or food wholesalers a reliable and consistent crop supply either out of your current growing season or all year round.

This can help to increase resilience to economic and environmental shocks, such as droughts or market fluctuations. Integrated farming can also provide a more secure income for farmers who might otherwise depend on one crop or product.

Free Selective Focus Photography of Green Vegetables Stock Photo

Improved sustainable agricultural production

Integrated farming helps to promote sustainable agriculture by reducing the use of protective chemicals, conserving water and energy and promoting biodiversity.  

This not only ensures the long-term viability of agriculture but also helps to mitigate the negative effects of agriculture on the environment. Overall, integrated farming can play a crucial role in promoting sustainable agriculture and ensuring a secure food supply for future generations. From increasing food security to mitigating climate change and reducing reliance on synthetic pesticides and antibiotics, these systems can have a significant positive impact on both farmers and the environment. As we face an ever-growing population and increasing environmental concerns, integrated farming will become increasingly important in securing a sustainable future for agriculture.

Want to understand how an integrated vertical farming system can work for your business? Then book a tour of our facility or a demo to see the towers in action.  

1 https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/feeding-world-sustainably

2 https://grantham.sheffield.ac.uk/soil-loss-an-unfolding-global-disaster/

3 https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water-in-agriculture

4 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/environment/2022/08/12/uk-weather-farmers-warn-crop-failure-biggest-english-drought/

5 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/01/uk-farmers-count-cost-as-heatwave-kills-fruit-and-vegetable-crops

6 https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Outcomes-Supply-chain-case-study.pdf

7 https://ourworldindata.org/food-ghg-emissions

Monday, May 27, 2024

Artificial intelligence and agriculture: how can AI impact vertical farming? What we know so far

Read IGS’ Chief Technology Officer, Dave Scott, and Head of Data, Emily Seward’s thoughts on artificial intelligence and agriculture, and how vertical farming can benefit.

Read IGS’ Chief Technology Officer, Dave Scott, and Head of Data, Emily Seward’s thoughts on artificial intelligence and agriculture, and how vertical farming can benefit.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Can you grow tomatoes with vertical farming? A crop scientist’s insight.

Read IGS’ Head of Science Tanveer Khan’s insight on growing tomato starter plants with vertical farming, covering everything from nutritional value to specific nuances between varieties.

Read IGS’ Head of Science Tanveer Khan’s insight on growing tomato starter plants with vertical farming, covering everything from nutritional value to specific nuances between varieties.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Growing strawberry runners with vertical farming – what the science tells us

Here's how we utilise the latest research to grow strawberry runners using vertical farming.

Here's how we utilise the latest research to grow strawberry runners using vertical farming.