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The Problem With Vertical Farming

The Problem With Vertical Farming
Jan 15 2021 3 min read

While some look at vertical farming systems as a potential solution to global food shortages, others see them as well-intentioned failures.

Advocates have made a strong case in favour of indoor vertical farming but what about the other side of the debate? Will the challenges vertical farming companies face prove to be insurmountable?

Depending on which side of the debate you fall on, you might feel those who question the benefits of vertical farms are jaded skeptics. However, some of those voices are from experts in their fields who look at the concept from another angle and see it differently.

Below we take a look at the 3 most common arguments presented when it comes vertical farming not living up to the hype.

  1. COST

    The biggest barrier to entry into vertical farming is the costs involved.

    Upfront costs: Vertical farms can be very expensive to build. For example, the containing farming solutions offered by Freight Farms cost $139,000 in 2021 (not including shipping). Even if you own the space already, such as those who have started small vertical farming at home, there are significant costs related to equipment (lighting, tech, tools, shelves, pumps and pipes) and materials (nutrients, seeds and even fish – in the case of aquaponics).

    Ongoing costs: Once you get past the initial upfront costs, you will have a lot of spending to do. According to Pure Greens Container Farms, a small vertical farm (less than 10,000 sq. ft.) spends an average of $3.45 per square foot on energy while a large vertical farm (bigger than 10,000 sq. ft.) spends an average of $8.02 per square foot.

    Most of this spending is related to powering the artificial lighting required to grow the crops.

    Don’t forget about labour costs! Vertical farms come with unique ergonomic challenges that are not designed for efficient manual work. High stacks of grow beds require special solutions like scissor lifts to access and manage the crops.

  2. LIMITATIONS

    There are certain advantages with vertical farming that a grower does not have in traditional farming, but with the good also comes the bad. Here are a few of the limitations related to indoor vertical farming:

    Reliance on technology: When a vertical farm loses power for even a day there is a potential for a huge loss of production.

    Lack of wind: Many crops require wind to develop strong stalks. While this wind is usually plentiful and naturally occurring outdoors, growing without the wind indoors usually means vertical farms are limited to what they can produce, usually growing simple greens like lettuce.

    Lack of pollination: While growing in a controlled indoor environment has its advantages, this also severely limits the access for insects which impacts pollination in a big way. There are ways to manually pollinate but the process is very intensive (not to mention pricy).

  3. CARBON FOOTPRINT

    While indoor vertical hydroponics use about 10% of the water compared to traditional farming, which is no doubt a plus for the environment, this does not take into account perhaps the most important environmental factor: CO2 emissions and energy use.

    Renewable energy technology has come a long way in recent years, and hopes are that it will continue to improve, but the truth is we simply cannot harvest enough of the suns energy yet.

    Studies have shown that 5.4 acres of solar panels equal the production of 1 acre of sunlight and that the carbon emissions produced by vertical farms over 3 days (based on 8 kg of CO2 being released per kg of lettuce) is equal to the carbon emissions produced by 1 US car over 1 year (based on emissions of 5100 kg of CO2 per year).

With global population continuing on a steep climb and our resources spreading thinner, there’s growing evidence that fairly drastic changes will need to happen if we’re going to sustain ourselves. These changes will only come about through innovation and innovation rarely happens without failures and challenges along the way.

The last we checked the planet was not producing new land anytime soon (unless someone comes along and pulls a Lex Luthor from Superman 1978) so the only options involve making the most out of the space available.

Please contact us with any questions you may have about this or any other topic related to your insurance.

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