"God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures."
Francis Bacon, Philosopher
Vertical farming (also sometimes referred to as vertical gardening) is a farming practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers.
Vertical farming may be a quite promising future food source since the space can be used quite efficient to produce large amounts of vegetables and fruits.
However, apart from many other additional advantages, there are also some issues related to vertical farming. In this article, the pros and cons of vertical farming are explained.
One important advantage of vertical farming is that it assures quite stable crop yields. If everything is set up perfectly, it is quite easy to predict how much vegetables and fruits can be harvested in a given period of time. Thus, it is easy to make long-term contracts with grocery stores and suppliers since their will be a stable supply of crops and income streams due to vertical gardening.
Through vertical farming, the plants are also protected against all sorts of adverse outside conditions. For instance, through outdoor farming, a high fraction of crops is lost every year due to droughts, floods or storms.
Through the use of vertical gardening, none of those extreme weather conditions will matter since the inside conditions will not be altered due to those conditions, at least if those vertical farming facilities are not damaged by those extreme weather events.
Thus, if the vertical farming system had been constructed in a stable manner, there is not too much to worry about adverse outside weather conditions.
Another important upside of vertical farming is that crops can be harvested all year long. In contrast to outdoor farming where harvest time is only a few weeks or months, crop yields from vertical gardening are much more stable.
Thus, this stable crop yields all year long are quite convenient since they give farmers the assurance that they will earn a constant income.
Since vertical farming is usually operated indoor, there are also less chances for the contamination of plants with several sorts of pests. If the workers take great care not to bring any pests inside, chances are almost zero that pests have a chance to get inside the vertical farming system. In turn, the absence of pests will lead to an increase in crop yields since plants can grow in an optimal manner without being harmed by pests.
In general, through vertical farming, far less crops are lost to pests and other adverse circumstances compared to conventional outdoor farming. This implies that crop yields through vertical farming will be higher and less crops are lost during the growth process.
Since the conditions inside vertical farming systems can be optimized specifically for the respective plants, chances are that also the profits are maximized. If plants can grow in an optimal manner, they are able to produce high yields, which in turn also imply high profits for farmers that engage in this kind of farming technology.
Through the use of vertical farming, the plants are not only protected from any kinds of pests, they are also protected from animals or from invasive plant species. For instance, a significant portion of the crops from conventional outdoor farming is lost every year since animals eat plants or crops.
Moreover, invasive plant species try to compete with the farmed plants and may therefore lower their nutrient supply, which may lead to lower crop yields. Thus, through vertical indoor farming, all those issues could be prevented and crop yields are likely to increase.
Since the conditions inside vertical gardening systems regarding humidity and lighting can be altered as desired, there is also the possibility to grow quite exotic plant species which could not be grown through conventional outdoor farming.
This gives farmers a greater flexibility to meet the demand of people regarding certain crops and may also increase their profits due to this high level of flexibility to adjust to the market.
Another great benefit of vertical farming is that it is quite water efficient. Since it is a closed system, over 95% of water can be saved compared to conventional outdoor farming practices. Thus, this makes vertical gardening a great tool to save water.
This will be especially important in the future since water will become a quite scarce resource due to global warming, especially in the Southern hemisphere of our planet.
Since there is usually no need to fight pests inside vertical farming systems, plants can be grown in a fully organic manner. This not only benefits consumers since they will get healthier veggies and fruits, it may also benefit the operators of vertical farming systems since they might be able to sell their crops for higher prices.
Through vertical farming, also the need for countries to import large amounts of vegetables and fruits from foreign countries could be lowered.
This would decrease the dependence on the trade with other countries and could also benefit our environment since the transportation of goods also implies the emission of harmful gases into our atmosphere.
Thus, through local production, the overall ecological footprint of whole countries could be improved significantly.
Vertical farming also allows farmers to use their land in a much more efficient manner.
Through vertical gardening, the yields will be generally much higher compared to conventional farming since multiple layers of growth systems can be planted over each other.
Since our world population is growing quite fast, it will be quite important in the future to use our land as efficient as possible in order to ensure our global food supply.
Through efficient land use, also the need to expand our territory will decrease, which also implies that we can preserve more habitats of animals and plants. This in turn would give many animals and plant species the chance to recover their population. Thus, the use of vertical farming may also indirectly mitigate the endangered species problem.
Once the technology regarding vertical farming will be mature, it might even be possible to produce a certain amount of energy out of the compost from plant remains. When plant remains are composted, significant amounts of methane gas are produced, which may be used for energy production.
Since vertical farming projects are usually quite complex, industry experts are needed to set up a vertical gardening system in a proper manner. However, since the technology behind vertical farming is rather new, it might be difficult to find someone in your local area who has the necessary level of expertise in this field. Thus, it might be hard to find qualified staff to set up vertical farming projects.
Another disadvantage of vertical farming is that the initial construction and installation costs can be quite high. Since vertical farming systems are often quite complex and require plenty of planning, the initial costs can be huge.
Thus, companies have to take great care when it comes to the decision whether vertical farming will be suitable for them or not since wrong decisions can lead to serious financial downsides in this field.
Also the operating costs regarding vertical farming can be quite high. For instance, there has to be plenty of monitoring in order to ensure optimal growing conditions. Moreover, vertical farming systems also require sophisticated logistic mechanisms to move and replace plants on a constant basis in order to use the space in the most efficient manner.
Another downside of vertical gardening is that it requires significant amounts of energy. Since many layers of plants have to be covered by proper lighting, the electricity bill will grow rapidly over time.
Thus, compared to outdoor farming, the costs for energy will usually be much higher with vertical farming.
The huge energy consumption can also be regarded as environmental issue since most of our energy is still produced out of fossil fuels, which in turn implies serious greenhouse gas emissions.
Since vertical farming systems are usually quite complex, there will be the need for highly qualified workers who have to monitor these farming processes on a constant basis. These high efforts also imply significant labor costs related to vertical gardening. Thus, in many cases, vertical farming will not be senseful from an economic perspective at all.
There are also significant maintenance efforts related to vertical farming. Since the conditions inside the farming system are controlled in an artificial manner through lighting and altering the humidity level, some of the devices that are used to control these parameters may break down over time. Thus, these devices have to be replaced and over time, this may imply serious maintenance efforts and costs.
Although vertical farming setups are closed systems, some pests may enter those systems if workers are not careful. For instance, if maintenance workers enter the system in order to fix something, they could bring in some pests.
Thus, it is crucial that all the staff takes great care regarding disinfection so that no pests can enter the closed vertical gardening system.
Since there are no insects inside the vertical farming systems, there might be issues regarding the pollination of crops. Outdoor, the plants are usually pollinated in a natural manner through bees and other insects. However, since those insects are missing in vertical farming systems, the staff may have to pollinate the plants manually in order to assure a satisfying crop yield.
Vertical farming systems may also need the permission of state officials. In some states, it may be even forbidden to construct and operate those systems if you do not have a certain qualification level. Thus, if you plant to engage in vertical farming, make sure to check out your local regulations in order to avoid any trouble in the future.
Even though the idea and the technology behind vertical farming is quite promising, it is still at an early stage and there has to be plenty of time and money to be invested in order to improve the processes and make vertical farming suitable for the production of fruits and vegetables on a large scale.
Thus, engaging in this field now may give you a first mover advantage, but might also cause several problems since the technology you will be investing might be outdated pretty soon.
Although the idea to harvest plants through vertical farming systems in cities is quite promising, the infrastructure to process these crops nearby is still missing. In most cases, these crops have to be carried many miles until they can be processed in an effective manner. Thus, in order to make this technology more eco-friendly, the infrastructure around vertical gardening has to be improved and expanded.
Vertical farming will also only be suitable for certain kinds of plants from an economic perspective. Since the technology behind vertical farming is not mature yet, the costs are rather high and inexpensive food like potatoes might not justify the financial effort related to vertical gardening. Thus, vertical gardening might currently only be used for rather expensive plants.
There might also be the issue that plants that are raised with the help of vertical farming systems may contain less nutrients compared to plants that are raised outside on the field.
Since plants that are raised outdoor have to defend against pests and other harmful factors, these plants often produce certain substances that might be beneficial to human health.
However, plants from vertical gardening systems will not produce those substances.
Thus, certain minerals in plants that are grown in vertical farming systems might be missing compared to plants that are grown outdoors.
Another issue with vertical farming is that it is heavily dependent on working technology. For instance, imagine the lighting system inside such a system collapsed. Chances are that crop yields will suffer significantly if the lighting system cannot be fixed in a short period of time.
In contrast, with outdoor farming, there are no such issues since the lighting comes naturally and power outages will not cause any problems.
Thus, the heavy dependence on technological systems of vertical farming setups may cause serious problems in case these systems break down.
Some people in rural areas still rely on farming as their single source of income. With a growing market for crops from vertical farming, these farmers may be in serious trouble since they may lose their livelihood over the long run.
Thus, while some jobs will be created in the vertical farming industry, many jobs may be lost in conventional farming businesses over time once the technology behind vertical gardening becomes mature.
Vertical Farming Pros
Stable crop yields
Protection from adverse outside conditions
Less crop losses due to pests
Protection from animals
Less crop imports necessary
Efficient land use
Less habitat destruction
Yields all year long
Vertical Farming Cons
Expert needed to set up systems
High initial costs
High maintenance costs
Significant energy costs
Technology not mature yet
High labor costs
Need for official permission
Need for highly skilled workers
Even though vertical farming is a quite promising technology and has plenty of advantages, it is not mature yet and there are also serious problems related to those farming systems.
Thus, there has to be plenty of research in this field in order to improve the efficiency of processes to lower the costs related to vertical gardening.
Only then will it be possible to use vertical farming in order to produce vegetables and fruits on a large scale using this technology.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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