From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published September 19, 2014 06:15 AM

The Future of Vertical Farming

From big company agricultural farming, to communal farming or even personal agronomy, the business of growing crops for an expanding global population will be crucial in the near future.
The two most important resources needed to run these farms are one, water, and two, land. But these resources often come at a premium, especially with growing populations and increased food demand. Farmers and researchers have already started leaning towards genetic engineering and industrial processing to help with their crop yields, but a new solution in agribusiness is emerging. Vertical farming.

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"Vertical farming" was coined back in 1915, but the practice has not yet become mainstream. That is, until now. Stacked greenhouses that use artificial light to grow crops have numerous benefits and the business itself is starting to take off.

Last year, PlantLab began the construction of a $22-million, 200,000-square-foot headquarters, including multiple plant production units (PPUs) and research units.

PlantLab's claims that a PPU the size of a city block and just a few stories high could produce the same volume of high-quality crops as a large farm, while consuming fewer resources. Water used for the plants does not evaporate or runoff, and because of this, PPUs consume only about 10 percent as much water as traditional farms. Other benefits include no pesticides and that the plants are protected from weather-related problems. 

PPUs allow production to occur locally (thereby reducing transport costs and wastage) and on demand, under controllable conditions. In other words, any kind of fruit or vegetable can be grown anywhere, year-round.

Not only do PPUs offer major savings in terms of resources and transportation; they are also not prohibitively expensive to build. Indeed, for something like $100 million, a partner could purchase the required land and construct a 500,000-square-foot (46,450 m2) PPU, with ten growing levels about five feet apart.

The resulting farm would employ about 200 people for seeding, growing, harvesting, packaging, sales, logistics, maintenance, and management. And it would supply 50,000 people with a consistently high-quality seven-ounce daily requirement of fresh herbs, vegetables, and ground fruits like berries for at least ten years—all in less space that the average multi-story parking lot. This might sound expensive. But, at just $2,000 per person, the cost is far lower than the $8,000 the average American spends in annual health-care costs. Given that a PPU will last for at least a decade, and offer considerable health benefits to local populations, it is a small price to pay.

Read more at Policy Innovations.

Greenhouse image via Shutterstock.

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