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The Essential Pros and Cons of Vertical Farming

Vertical farming involves growing crops in stacked layers or shelves, utilizing indoor spaces to maximize productivity. Unlike traditional agriculture, which relies on vast expanses of land, vertical farms make efficient use of available space by going upward.

This verticality offers several advantages, such as increased crop yield per square foot, reduced water usage and a year-round growing season. However, there are some downsides that growers need to be aware of when planning a vertical farming operation.

In this blog, we’ll cover the pros and cons of vertical farming, providing crucial information for those interested in the growth of the budding industry and demonstrating the benefits and roadblocks of the newest advancement in agriculture.

What are the Pros and Cons of Vertical Farming?

With this in mind, there’s some key pieces of information that you should know before jumping into the world of hydroponics. Like anything, there are pros and cons of vertical farming.

Here’s how vertical farming shines, and how it may require further innovation to achieve its lofty expectations of competing with traditional agriculture.

Lettuce growing on a layer of a vertical farm.
Container farms not only grow crops in vertical stacked layers, but they can also be stacked themselves, one container on top of another. This allows vertical farmers to create compact growing environments, perfect for growing crops wherever they’re needed, even in urban environments.

Advantages of Vertical Farming

Vertical farming is a growing technique that grows crops in stacked layers. It is commonly associated with hydroponics, which develops plants with minimal water usage, and without soil. Modern vertical farming developed from an experiment from a professor at the University of California in the 1930’s, and has since evolved into a $3.5 billion industry expected to continue growing in leaps and bounds over the next decade.

Here’s the areas where vertical farming shines, providing value for growers and consumers alike:

Climate Controlled Environment for Global Growing

A key benefit of vertical farming is that the entire environment is climate controlled. Compared with greenhouses (another type of indoor crop cultivation) vertical farming typically offers significantly higher levels of climate control. While greenhouses utilize sunlight to cultivate plants and provide them with energy, its transparent enclosure subjects the interior climate to variations.

Vertical farming operations have opaque enclosures that block natural sunlight and use artificial lighting instead. This results in controlled environment agriculture, allowing for more efficient, sustainable and year-round food production.

This allows growers to cultivate crops anywhere in the world – assuming they have stable power and water connections. From hot climates to chilling environments, vertical farming opens agricultural opportunities across the globe with climate-controlled growing environments.

Optimal Production Capabilities

In addition to a climate controlled growing area, efficient and fast production is another key advantage of vertical farming. By leveraging precision agriculture techniques, vertical farms accelerate crop growth cycles, resulting in faster harvest times compared to traditional farming. This efficiency extends to resource use, with vertical farms using significantly less water and land.

Additionally, the controlled environment reduces the need for pesticides, leading to cleaner, healthier produce. Most importantly, studies suggest that crops grown in these conditions can have higher nutritional content.

Thus, vertical farming not only enhances production speed and efficiency but also contributes to the cultivation of more nutritious crops.

Significantly Fewer Problems with Pests

Traditional agriculture often battles with pests, requiring harmful pesticides that impact crop quality and the environment. However, vertical farms’ controlled indoor environments drastically reduce the risk of pest infestations.

This minimizes crop loss due to pests and eliminates the need for chemical pesticides. As a result, the produce from vertical farms is healthier and safer for consumption. Additionally, the risk of disease spread is lower, further enhancing crop protection.

Challenges of Vertical Farming

While vertical farming provides growers with more control over their plants’ growing environment than is possible with traditional agriculture or greenhouse growing, there’s still a number of roadblocks that may stand in the way of a successful vertical farming operation. Here are the biggest challenges of vertical farming:

High Energy Costs

Perhaps the largest roadblock standing in the way of vertical farming success is the high cost of energy that forms one of the industry’s largest expenditures. As a result of vertical farming’s highly efficient production, involving grow lights and electronic components, these systems require large amounts of electricity to operate.

Energy costs are volatile compared to the price of other commodities, fluctuating depending on changes in supply and demand.

This can result in increased insecurity when vertical farmers are planning economic projections for the future, dissuading investors and creditors from providing financial support to their operations.

Skilled Workers Required for Peak Production

Vertical farms might seem to be easy to manage at first, but these systems have significant complexities not immediately apparent to those unfamiliar with growing crops. Even though farming is one of the world’s oldest occupations, it requires skilled professionals to ensure success.

Though vertical farming is a skill you can learn, it’s not a simple task. It’s more akin to commercial farming than taking care of houseplants. It requires an understanding of plant biology, grow cycles, how crops respond to different climate conditions, pH and nutrient levels, and techniques to ensure efficient production and get the most out of your plants.

Because of vertical farming’s compact environments, it’s crucial to staff a hydroponic operation with skilled workers that understand how to alleviate problems when they arise.

High Initial Cost

When starting a vertical farm, there’s many costs that must be accounted for. In addition to typical farming expenses like property, labor and packaging materials, vertical farms also cost the price of the facility, lighting, hydroponic system, and electricity to power it. As a result, most vertical farming operations require significant sums of money to develop and expand their businesses.

Finding government grants and bank loans has proven to be a thorn in the side of many aspiring hydroponic growers, with financiers hesitant to provide funding for non-traditional farms like vertical farms.

Butterhead lettuce developing in two layers in a container farm.
By utilizing container farms, farmers can create vertical growing environments that maximize space and allow for year-round cultivation.

Summary

In conclusion, vertical farming presents a promising solution to the challenges of traditional agriculture, offering increased yield, efficient resource use and the ability to grow crops in diverse climates.

However, it’s not without its hurdles. High energy costs, the need for skilled workers, and substantial initial investment are significant barriers to entry. Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of vertical farming make it a compelling avenue for the future of agriculture.

As technology advances and solutions to these obstacles are found, vertical farming may well become a mainstay in global food production, transforming the way we grow our food and shaping the future of sustainable agriculture.

By examining the pros and cons of vertical farming, growers can develop a deeper understanding of the industry, which enables them to make informed decisions about their operations.

Interested in learning more about hydroponics? Here at Pure Greens, we work with growers that want a genuine understanding of this new industry. Our team has extensive growing experience, and we’ve developed systems that meet the needs of vertical farmers and push the industry forward. Talk with us today, and we can answer any questions you have, and provide you with a quote for our container farm solutions.

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