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Vertical farming on the rise in 2020?

Luc Baardman
January 6, 2020

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were, perhaps, the first example of vertical farming. Using a unique aquaponic system that relies on the capillary action within plants and trees, Babylonians were able to create a garden towering into the sky, rich in biodiversity and abundantly producing food. The garden fed the entire city of Babylon, which with its population of 200,000, was the equivalent of a modern megacity. Will the megacities of today also seek salvation in modern hanging gardens?

If we strip down a vertical farm to the basics, the first thing it needs is a city with limited space. If our beautiful, lush-green and velvet-blue planet numbered 33 megacities in 2018, it is expected to be home to 39 megacities in 2020.[1] With more people on less land requiring more water due to social mobility, megacities divert fresh water from traditional agriculture. This increases the need for smarter farming, and – since vertical farms require 70–95% less water[2] and no soil – the sprawl of megacities is the first reason we will see more vertical farms this year.

Technological advancements comprise the second, third, and fourth reasons vertical farms will soon become a reality. In construction, sustainability is becoming more and more important. As companies start developing more cost-efficient methods to build sustainably, vertical farms will profit from lower start-up costs in 2020. In addition to construction, there are tremendous improvements in smart farming methods. As mentioned in the paragraph above, vertical farms use no soil, little water (compared to traditional agricultural practices), and a combination of natural and artificial lighting. With companies such as Signify and Valoya continuing to develop better lighting solutions, the costs of running a vertical farm will also decrease.

Improvements in IT will also make it possible for vertical farms to start appearing on the landscape. Monitoring crops creates a huge amount of data. For instance, Aerofarms has 130,000 data points every harvest. With the analysis of this data, harvesting can be optimized, increasing profits for vertical farms. With the rise of 5G connectivity, (vertical) farms can enjoy greater precision of robots with lower latency, resulting in fewer diseases on the fields and in the labs and greater outputs.[4]

A final reason is the looming global climate crisis. The population is constantly growing, and more mouths need to be fed. As the agricultural sector grows to meet this rising demand, agricultural emissions are also expected to increase by .[5] Vertical farms will have the capacity to capture greenhouse gasses as they, in essence, are greenhouses themselves (meaning gases will remain indoors and can be captured with filtering technologies.[6])

This green promise of vertical farms is potentially our only viable alternative, as indoors is the one place where we can control the climate. Seven years after the artist’s impression below, the reality of emerging vertical farms may become a reality in 2020.

Rotterdam’s skyline enriched by a vertical farm, artist impression.

Above: Rotterdam’s skyline enriched by a vertical farm, artist impression.

Below: fresh fruit, vegetable and spices for millions of Chinese megacity inhabitants made possible through vertical farming, artist impression.

Vertical Farming - Shift Architecture Urbanism 2013

Image Sources: Shift Architecture Urbanism, 2013 [link]

Are you working in the space of vertical farming? Will you contribute to making vertical farming a reality? Do reach out!