Vertical farming is a revolutionary agricultural method that is gaining popularity due to its ability to create year-round, sustainable food production. In this article, we will explore the crops that can be grown in a vertical farm and whether this method of growing is right for you.
What is vertical farming and how does it work?
Vertical farming is an agricultural method that involves growing crops in vertically stacked layers, using controlled environment agriculture (CEA) technology, such as hydroponics or aquaponics. IGS vertical farms take CEA further with total controlled environment agriculture (TCEA) which provides a fully controlled and predictable microclimate by controlling environmental elements such as heat, light, water and nutrient delivery. By controlling these elements, this method of farming enables year-round crop production.
In a vertical farm, artificial lighting, temperature, humidity, and nutrient solutions are controlled to create growth recipes depending on the crops in each layer to ensure the best possible growth and yield.
Why would you choose vertical farming?
Before we explore why growers would choose to integrate vertical farming into their operations, it's essential to understand that this method is not meant to completely replace traditional farms or existing greenhouse technology, but rather to complement and enhance them. The benefits of each agriculture system can be maximised by working together to create a more sustainable future for food production.
Let's take a look at the several advantages vertical farming offers and how it can be used to improve the production, efficiency and sustainability of existing growing operations
The main benefit of vertical farming is its ability to produce crops year-round, regardless of weather conditions and seasonality. This is achieved through control of the entire growing environment (heat, light, air, humidity) which allows for continuous crop production in a bio-secure environment. In contrast, other farming methods rely on seasonal weather patterns which, due to the erratic and unreliable weather patterns, can limit the production and yield of crops. This is especially suited to seed to harvest crops such as leafy greens, micro-greens and herbs.
Another benefit of vertical farms is their efficient use of space. As populations continue to grow and land becomes more limited, vertical indoor farming offers a solution to produce more food per square meter of land. This allows for greater food production in urban areas, where space is at a premium, and reduces the need for long-distance transportation, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
In the controlled farming environment of a vertical farm, pests and diseases can be prevented or managed without the need for chemicals, which traditionally damage soil and surrounding water sources, causing biodiversity losses.
Vertical farming also uses significantly less water than traditional farming, because vertical farms recycle and reuse water. In particular, an IGS vertical farm recycles around 95% of the water used and also harvests natural rainwater which is purified for use in our close loop irrigation system. This is especially important as water scarcity becomes an increasing concern in many regions of the world.
Is vertical farming right for my business?
Whether vertical farming is right for your business depends on a variety of factors, including the type of crops you want to grow, the size of your operation, and your business goals. In general, whenever a farmer or large-scale grower decides to invest in vertical farming, we believe it’s important to consider these three points;
- If you can't grow excellent quality produce—don't plant the seed;
- If you can't get the economics right and make money—don't plant the seed;
- If you're going to harm the environment in the process—don't plant the seed.
We call these the three Es of vertical farming success – excellent, economics, environment.
There may be some other considerations you might want to take into account when considering if vertically farming crops is right for your business.
Consider the crops you want to grow. If you plan to grow seed-to-harvest crops that require relatively little space and have a short growing cycle, such as leafy greens or herbs, then vertical farming is the perfect fit for your business. If you plan to grow starter plants or propagules in a vertical farming, then it can be used to in-house this part of your growing system, removing the need for imports and cold storage. We cover the different crops you can grow in a vertical farm later in this article.
Vertical farming may be an excellent alternative if you want to extend your crop production cycle or diversify the crops you currently grow, helping you to increase your revenue. IGS can help you build a business case for investing in a vertical farm.
Who is IGS?
Founded in Scotland in 2013, IGS is a technology company that combines farming and engineering expertise to create a vertical farming system that delivers business benefits while addressing pressing global challenges such as food security and sustainability.
IGS takes controlled environment agriculture (CEA) further with Total Controlled Environment Agriculture (TCEA). CEA is can produces inconsistencies as it is still exposed to environmental elements such as heat and light, whereas TCEA allows for predictable and consistent growth in any suitable site as it offers total control over the growing environment.
Our Crop Research Centre is located near Dundee, Scotland, at the James Hutton Institute, a world-renowned crop and plant science research facility. IGS and the Hutton Institute work closely together to expand our understanding of plant science for indoor growing.
What can you grow in an IGS vertical farm?
Growing leafy greens in vertical farms
Leafy greens are one of the most commonly grown crops by vertical farmers, as they require relatively little space, have a short growing cycle, and can be easily grown using or ebb and flow hydroponic system. Some examples of leafy greens that can be grown in a vertical farm include lettuce, kale, basil, pak choi and more.
Growing fruit in vertical farms
Fruits can also be grown in vertical farms, although the growing process can be more challenging than with leafy greens due to the height of the plants.
Starter plants or propagules such as tomatoes and strawberries are commonly grown in vertical farms, with the systems providing the necessary nutrients and growing conditions. The starter crops will then be moved into a greenhouse, poly tunnel or open-field farming system to continue to grow.
Small fruiting crops such as chilies can be fully grown, repeatably in an IGS vertical farm. We have been growing and harvesting chilies from our own crop research centre for the last two years.
The benefits of growing these kinds of plants in a vertical farm is that this system allows for year-round production, regardless of weather conditions. This can ensure a reliable supply of high-quality starter plants, and reducing reliance on imports
Growing trees in vertical farms
Vertical farming systems are ideal for producing tree seedlings because they provide exact control over growing factors such as light, temperature, humidity and nutrient levels. This is especially advantageous for young seedlings, which are more vulnerable to external stresses and can benefit from a completely controlled, stable growing environment.
Growing tree seedlings in a vertical farm can also result in improved yields as the growing area is stacked vertically, more plants per square metre may be grown than with standard seedling growing methods.
Growing medicinal plants in vertical farms
A medicinal crop, also known as a pharmaceutical crop, is a plant cultivated specifically for the production of pharmaceutical or nutraceutical products.
Vertical farming is an excellent approach for growing medicinal crops because it allows for year-round production, reduced contamination risk, efficient use of space, and no need for pesticides. As a result, high-quality crops are produced on a consistent basis regardless of external conditions, containing high levels of specific plant compounds needed in the manufacture of medications or pharmaceuticals.
Vertical farming offers a sustainable solution to meet the increasing demand for food production while reducing the environmental impact of traditional farming. While vertical farming may not be suitable for all types of crops or businesses yet, it is an excellent alternative for those looking to enhance their production efficiency and sustainability.
With the ongoing advancements in technology, vertical farming is poised to play a significant role in the future of agriculture. If you want to find out more about how an IGS Growth Tower could help your business, get in touch now.