Vertical farms – is this the future of agriculture? | World Economic Forum – World Economic Forum
- Vertical farming involves growing plants indoors in layers using LED lighting and controlled growing and nutrition systems.
- Europe’s biggest vertical farm grows 1,000 tonnes of food a year.
- The advantages of this kind of agriculture include growing more food in less space and eschewing pesticides.
- But the cost of real estate and technology, as well as farms running on fossil fuels, are some of the issues preventing greater adoption.
Shipping containers, underground tunnels and abandoned mine shafts are not obvious venues for growing food. Yet many such spaces are being turned into vertical farms.
So what exactly are they, and how could vertical farms change traditional agriculture?
What is vertical farming?
Vertical farming involves growing plants indoors, which is why it’s sometimes also known as indoor farming. Instead of sunlight and rain, vertical farms use LED lighting and controlled growing and nutrition systems. Plants are stacked vertically in layers, so many of the farms look like warehouses filled with large shelving units.
For example, Europe’s biggest vertical farm is being developed outside Copenhagen in Denmark by Danish start-up Nordic Harvest. It is a warehouse-like 75,000-square-foot facility where plants are grown in 14 stacked layers, according to Free Think. When it’s fully completed, Nordic Harvest says its vertical farm will supply 1,000 tonnes of food a year.
Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.
Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.
With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.
Learn more about Innovation with a Purpose’s impact and contact us to see how you can get involved.
What are the benefits of vertical farms?
Vertical farming is considered a highly efficient and sustainable way of producing food. For instance, Nordic Harvest says it uses 250 times less water than a traditional farm would need.
Automation is the key to this efficiency. Software, robotics and data science are some of the technologies used in vertical farms to monitor crops and create optimum growing conditions. This includes controlling temperature, humidity, CO2 and light.
Controlled environment agriculture like this helps to reduce the vertical farm’s environmental impact, eliminating the need for pesticides for example.
Vertical farms also aren’t reliant on the weather, so fresh produce can be grown all year round.
Nordic Harvest’s vertical farms in Denmark can harvest plants 15 times a year.
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