BlogsWednesday, March 1, 2023

Vertical Farming: The Future of the Farming Industry

Agriculture has seen a significant transformation over the past hundred years, with improvements in technology allowing for more land to be farmed with greater efficiency and advancements in seeds, irrigation, and fertilisers have increased yields. Now, a new technological revolution in the form of indoor vertical farming systems are giving rise to a new era for the agricultural industry.

This innovative food production system can significantly increase crop yields while increasing efficiency and fortifying the sustainability and resilience of agricultural systems. But what exactly is vertical farming and why is it so important?

What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming systems are a type of agriculture where crops, such as herbs and leafy greens, are grown indoors in vertically stacked layers instead of in horizontal rows in the ground, like traditional  (open field and glasshouse) agriculture methods. This system is optimised through the use of technology such as LED lighting, closed-loop water recycling, and total climate control.

How do vertical farms work?

At IGS, our vertical farming technology  (we call them Growth Towers) allows for complete control over environmental elements, such as lighting, irrigation, CO2 levels, and nutrient delivery. Advanced power management delivers optimised energy usage throughout the day and night, ensuring energy costs are as low as possible.

Each tower has its own independent microclimate, which allows for faster, more controlled production, irrespective of the season. You can grow multiple crops or varieties in one Growth Tower,.

Unlike arable farming, you can choose the exact crop you want to grow regardless of the season or weather.,. Vertical agriculture also allows you to grow predictably and consistently to meet market demand and switch quickly to crops that are in short supply.  

Vertical farming allows us to reduce our reliance on imported crops and increase our ability to grow and purchase locally.

What are the best plants to grow in a vertical farm?

Vertical farms can grow a wide variety of crops including lettuce, rocket, and many others. Leafy greens and salad types are some of the most common crops grown in vertical farms because there is high demand for them. They are also quick to grow, and they're a reliable crop. Unlike an open field, where salads are at high risk from pests an disease, vertical farm produce is grown without the use of pesticides.

An IGS growth tower can also produce starter seedlings for trees such as the Norway spruce, and fruit such as strawberry starter plants (propagules) and nursery cherry tomatoes.

What is total controlled environment agriculture?

Total Controlled Environment Agriculture (TCEA) is an advancement of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).

CEA is a food production method where crops are grown in spaces where conditions can be human-controlled to match the needs of specific crops. This control allows for variations in temperature, light, humidity, and nutrients from area to area within a singular farm.

Glasshouses and simpler indoor systems can be categorised under CEA, but due to a lack of complete control over the growing environment, these methods can result in unpredictable and inconsistent yields. On the other hand, TCEA eliminates external factors, such as heat and light, and creates its own microclimate, leading to a more consistent and repeatable growing environment.

At IGS, our Growth Tower systems boost yields by up to 2-3 times compared to traditional glasshouses commonly used for producing crops in the UK. Our modular, scalable and flexible vertical farming technology aids growers in meeting their customers' demands and enhancing their profit margins by ensuring a steady supply of high-quality crops.

What is the difference between vertical farming and hydroponics?

Although both vertical farming and hydroponics are strong alternatives to more traditional farming methods, there are some key differences and benefits they offer the grower. Hydroponic farming is a method where plants are grown without soil, instead, they receive their nutrients, hydration, and oxygen through a nutrient-filled water solution. You can grow a variety of flowers, herbs, and vegetables through hydroponic systems, fostering stronger yields, faster growth, and outstanding quality. Ebb and flow is one the most common irrigation methods our customers use.  The growth tray is filled with water and nutrients then drained when the cycle is complete. The roots are supported by synthetic materials such as foam or natural by-products such coconut coir,  

How is Artificial Intelligence (AI) used in vertical farming?

In an IGS vertical farm, Machine Learning and AI is used to identify continuous optimisation of the growing environment, ensuring you always grow a regular supply of produce, with the highest levels of quality.

Why is vertical farming so important?

In the simplest terms, vertical farming allows growers to produce more food in less space, than traditional farms, to meet the world's growing needs and demands for fresh produce. This predictable and repeatable growing environment offers other benefits to UK growers, too, including.:

Reduce reliance on imports

Growing in a totally controlled environment, such as with vertical farming, dramatically reduces food miles as the produce is grown locally. This allows for year-round production of usually seasonal crops, reducing dependence on imports during off-season periods and resulting in higher quality and greater yield. Lessening our reliance on imports also plays a part in reducing our carbon footprint.

Increased food security

The growing population is a concern for food providers. Estimates say we need to produce 60% more food by 2050 to meet the ever-growing population. However, most of the arable land that is currently available is already being farmed using traditional methods. To help feed the planet and increase food security, new methods like vertical farming are essential.

Adopting vertical farming can lead to a more sustainable and eco-friendly agricultural industry. Our system boasts several environmental benefits, such as:

  • Consuming 98% less water compared to traditional greenhouse farming;
  • Implementing a closed-loop water and nutrient recycling process to reduce waste;
  • Eliminating nutrient discharge into the environment;
  • Minimising food waste and extending shelf life with shorter travel time;
  • Designed for long-term use, with components that can be easily replaced as needed.
  • By using this innovative farming technology, we will be a step closer to producing the food we need to feed the growing population.

Extended shelf life

Food waste is a significant issue, with UK households alone throwing out approximately 9.5 million tonnes of food annually. Vertical farms help to increase the shelf life of food as transportation time is cut out. By increasing the shelf life of food, we can reduce the amount of waste, which plays a role in reducing the impact of food waste on the environment and on climate change.

Reduced contamination risks

Throughout the world, outbreaks of infections such as E.coli have been linked to contaminated lettuce, leading to increased concern for food safety. However, the closed environment of vertical farming reduces this risk. Using automation, crops are isolated from the  risks from contamination, providing a high level of protection for the produce.

How many vertical farms are there in the UK?

IGS has currently deployed three vertical farms in the UK, including our own crop research centre which comprises of five Growth Towers.

How many vertical farms are there in the world?

Vertical farming is a popular indoor farming endeavour worldwide. The United States currently has the most vertical farms, with over 2,000 farms producing advanced leafy greens, herbs, and berries. The continent of Asia is also a popular place for vertical farms, with over 200 farms in Japan alone.

At IGS, we are currently planning and constructing our verticals farms in Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway, Romania and USA,  

Vertical farming can create consistent and repeatable growing environments with the help of AI and Machine Learning. This leads to increased food production, less reliance on imports, improved food security, and a reduced carbon footprint. Get in touch now if you want to find out more about how an IGS Growth Tower could help your business.

Written by

Andrew Lloyd

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