More than 2,000 farms across the U.S. operate on a vertical model. This is a type of agricultural process in which crops are grown on top of one another, rather than side by side in rows.
As you might expect, this method saves space and is ideal for urban environments. However, that’s far from its only benefit. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the main efficiencies vertical farming can provide.
Higher Crop Yield
When crops are grown vertically rather than horizontally, farmers are able to add more plants into the space. This means they can harvest a greater number of crops per square foot or acre of land.
Another reason why this method results in an impressive yield? Most vertical farms are located in an indoor warehouse.
This allows operators to simulate ideal growing conditions, adjusting elements such as light exposure and humidity to achieve an optimal outcome. Some warehouses leverage specialized software called controlled environment agriculture (CEA) technology to fine-tune these metrics.
Less Water Consumption
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), irrigation accounts for 42% of all freshwater withdrawals in the nation.
Traditional soil farms require an abundant amount of water to stay healthy, especially those that are located in warmer regions. Vertical farms can use up to 95% less water than these models.
This is because most vertical crops are grown hydroponically. They’re placed in purified, nutrient-rich solutions that don’t require soil for mechanical support. Growers can monitor the water level and deliver a precise amount at set times, which helps conserve resources.
This water is sustainably managed, as most farmers continuously recirculate it through their irrigation systems.
As the vertical crops are grown in a controlled environment, there’s virtually no risk of pests invading and disturbing them. This means that growers don’t have to rely as heavily on traditional pesticides to keep them healthy.
Not only can the chemicals in pesticides affect the crops, but they can also impact soil health and weaken entire ecosystems. Reducing our reliance on these products is one step toward a more eco-conscious future.
Improved Food Traceability
When a food-related disease outbreak occurs, managers must be able to track the disease back to its original source. This can be difficult with traditionally-grown crops, as items like leafy greens are taken from various farms and mixed together at a processing plant. From there, a third party packages them and sells them at the grocery store.
With this alternative approach, there’s a greater degree of managerial oversight and visibility. A vertical farming company can use software to track every step of the crop journey, and most farms sell directly to the store without an intermediary. While this reduces the risk of contamination and outbreaks, it also makes it easier to track one if it does occur.
The Future Is in Vertical Farming
Whether you’re a city dweller looking to grow your own garden or a large-scale farmer seeking a more sustainable business model, vertical farming can be the answer.
This approach reduces water usage, requires fewer pesticides, and makes it easier to trace the journey from seed to store. It also delivers a crop yield that’s significantly higher than traditional, soil-based models.
As farmers continue to look for ways to innovate and modernize their methods, this is one that holds both promise and potential.