Will vertical farming be the future of food production?
As the world's population continues to grow and concerns around climate change and dwindling resources intensify, there is a pressing need to find more sustainable and efficient ways to produce food, locally. We believe part of the solution is vertical farming, a technology that offers a way to produce crops in controlled environments, using significantly less water and space than open field or glasshouse methods..
In this blog, we'll explore the key differences between vertical farms and more traditional farming methods and how they differ within transportation, distribution, and supply chains.
What are the key differences between a vertical farm and a traditional farm?
Traditional open-field farming relies on lots of outdoor space to allow crops to be grown in the ground. In an IGS vertical farm, crops are grown in vertically stacked layers within a structure where the environment is totally controlled and is optimised through the use of technology. Imagine a 300m2 field, cut up into 50 full-size snooker tables. These snooker table-sized sections are stacked in two racking systems and placed inside a superstructure to create a Growth Tower. The space-saving offered by vertical farming is one of its biggest advantages.
Water usage is another advantage of vertical farming. Accounting for 70% of the usage of all freshwater on the planet, outdoor farming puts pressure on freshwater resources as production continues to expand. To help counter this, vertical farming is a low-water use method because of its closed-loop irrigation system. This system means the water gets collected and reused repeatedly. With an IGS farm, the only water leaving the Growth Tower system is within the crop itself.
More traditional farms are subject to the limitations imposed by external environmental conditions. They rely on natural sunlight, rainfall, and seasonal changes, making them vulnerable to extreme weather fluctuations. Whereas vertical farms provide precise control over environmental factors like temperature, humidity, light, and nutrient levels. These controlled environments enable year-round production and reduce reliance on external factors, making vertical farms less susceptible to climate variations and providing more consistent crop yields.
Vertical farms also implement integrated pest management systems that eliminate the need for chemical pesticides. Traditional methods use pesticides and herbicides to control pests and weeds, which can have environmental and health implications.
How does vertical farming and traditional open-field farming differ in energy use?
One of the biggest criticisms around vertical farming is its energy use. Whilst vertical farming does use a large amount of energy to grow crops, there are many opportunities for vertical farms to run on renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and waste.
Another way IGS reduces energy usage within our vertical farms is our patented three-phase power and control system. Our system allows you to dynamically control LED usage, which means you can deliver the right amount of light the plants needs, when they need it. This process of photon optimisation can reduce power requirements by up to 50%.
Through strategic planning and consideration of renewable energy usage in vertical farms, there are many options to look at alternative power sources to build a business case for investing in a vertical farm.
What benefits does vertical farming offer to the transportation and distribution of foods?
Transportation can be costly and logistically complex. Delays in the global supply chain in recent years have shown the negative impact transport can have on the availability of products to retailers and end consumers. From an environmental point of view, our global food production system also has a large carbon footprint, accounting for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions due to food miles.
Vertical farms greatly reduce the distance that food travels; from the grower to the processor, to the retailer, and ultimately the end consumer. Due to the space saving capabilities and smaller footprint of land required to house a vertical farm, and the possibility to grow crops all year round, localising where we grow becomes commercially viable, which significantly reduces the complexity of transportation by shortening the distance that food needs to travel.
Shorter journeys can reduce food waste and increase profitability, as fresh produce can often rot during longer transit, especially when these journeys are interrupted by unexpected delays. Shortening the mileage and time spent in storage means food will reach the consumer quicker, increasing freshness, reducing spoilage and improving overall quality and commercial viability.
What will the future of farming look like?
Due to climate change creating issues such as water scarcity, it’s clear our current food production system has to change. The good news is that solutions, such as vertical farming, are proven to tackle issues such as water usage and they can be easily integrated into our existing food systems by growers.
This new food system is not meant to replace the traditional farmer or existing agricultural technologies such as greenhouses, but rather to work alongside them, maximising the benefits of each approach. At IGS, our philosophy is to meet people where they are today. By collaborating with traditional growing methods, vertical farming can help to create a more sustainable future for food production.
With these new farming systems, growers can take complete control over every aspect of a plant's growth, whether they are growing seed to harvest crops, such as lettuce, or young plants for propagation. IGS farms also enable reductions in water usage by as much as 97% and eliminate the need for pesticides. Given the world's dwindling resources and struggles with climate change, we consider this technology to be essential.
This is especially important as the world's population is expected to reach 9.3 billion by 2050, meaning that we will need to increase current food production by 60% to meet this demand.
As a result, innovative technologies are essential to helping alleviate these pressures on food growers and governments as they work to meet the world's increasing food demands.
IGS: The Future of Vertical Farming
Here at IGS, our vertical farming systems are called Growth Towers. Our technology takes controlled environment agriculture (CEA) a step further with total controlled environment agriculture (TCEA). While glasshouses and low-tech indoor systems are classified as CEA, their yields are often unpredictable and inconsistent as they lack full control over the growing environment,. TCEA creates a predictable and repeatable microclimate by eliminating all climatic factors, as well as the need to use protective chemicals..
By growing in an IGS Growth Tower, you can grow your preferred crops at preferred volumes all year round in a clean, bio-secure environment, using no harsh chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
IGS also offers a Cultivation Management Platform (CMP) to complement the Growth Tower Management System (GTMS). The CMP helps growers manage costs, boost revenue, reduce risks, and increase profit margins by providing operational transparency and traceability, forecasting yields and labour, and monitoring crop health in real-time to identify risks before they become problematic. The CMP measures workflow efficiency and productivity and reduces the risk of human error.
At IGS, we believe that vertical farming is a complimentary addition to existing agricultural methods to support and empower growers. By using innovative technology such as vertical farming, we can work towards creating a more sustainable future for food production. Want to understand how vertical farming can work for your business? Then book a tour of our facility or a demo to see the towers in action.