Are vertical farms an efficient means for the future?

Increasing urban areas with dense populations mean more people to feed with less space to grow food. Vertical farms may be an option for an economical way to grow food in a place where space is limited. The United Nations has estimated that feeding the growing population will require a 70% increase in food production. With over 67% of the world’s population living in dense urban settings, vertical gardens could become a sustainable solution for increasing food production.

What are Vertical Farms?

Traditionally, farming is done in the land, taking up a lot of space. While farming has become increasingly more efficient, a number of acres is still required to produce large amounts of food. Farmers have utilized GPS grids and higher-yielding seed, but farming still requires a lot of land. In some cases, farms are far from urban areas, requiring trucks and transportation to move food to the areas where it is needed.

Do Vertical Farms Really Work?

Companies, like Structural Panels INC, are creating Isowall® insulated wall panel systems that take agriculture to space-efficient farming ideal for urban settings. There are a number of vertical farming options that grow food in limited spaces. Studies are currently being done to examine how economical vertical farming is on a very large scale. One study found that, while energy use was higher with vertical farming (VF) compared to traditional greenhouses (GH), the space savings and water efficiency were very high. This 2018 study reported, “A six-story VF can achieve higher than a ten-fold efficiency in land use compared to a conventional GH and a 100-fold efficiency compared to open field cultivation”

Vertical farms are efficient in their use of space, but not necessarily energy. Researchers are looking at whether or not energy waste in metro areas could be used to help these farms utilize energy in a more economical way. Energy-efficient materials and lighting may also help reduce the energy footprint of VF.

Shifting all food to vertical farms isn’t really the goal. But, for large and densely populated cities, this could be an ideal solution to increasing local food production. In Hong Kong, for example, 90% of the food is imported, including 92% of vegetables. In areas like this, there is a danger if the transportation of supplies becomes interrupted. Researchers believe that vertical farming could add an additional element to large-scale food production that tackles specific food issues.