Vertical farming, also known as controlled environment agriculture (CEA), is the name for growing agricultural products or food in a factory-style situation – without the need for the usual growing media such as soil and sunlight. Instead, it relies on innovative greenhouse technologies such as lighting and nutrient delivery mediums.
Today’s mainstream food production systems cannot keep up with the growing demand of our increasing population, and vertical farming allows for more efficient production – leading to a greater future for food security.
Vertical farming is most commonly associated with urban food production. It takes advantage of low-value land unusable for growing onsite and shortens the length of typical supply chains. CEA can also be beneficial outside of urban areas, as it allows for local growth in the UK of produce that can usually only be grown, bought and imported from countries with a warmer climate.
Food production is facing many challenges regarding having to feed growing populations. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations predicts that food production will have to increase by 70% by 2050 to feed an additional 2.3 billion people. Vertical farming offers a realistic alternative to conventional production for some crops. It will help feed our growing population more efficiently and grow in dry, arid areas where growth can be difficult.
Current vertical farming systems
Three vertical farming systems are currently in use: hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics. All three of these systems don’t use soil to grow the produce but instead, use nutrient-rich solutions which plant roots can directly access.
Hydroponics relies on plant roots growing directly into reservoirs where nutrient solution is pumped around. On the other hand, Aeroponic systems allow the plant roots to grow freely with the water and nutrient solution sprayed onto them. Aquaponics is a mix of hydroponics and aeroponic methods, as the plants use fish waste as a fertiliser.
Gelponics is a non-synthetic hydrogel formulation with a low-carbon footprint allowing for more sustainable food production. Our Gelponics Granules are ready for tiling or spreading on arable fields to reduce soil erosion and improve water retention. We also offer Gelponics sheets that can be cut to fit directly into industry-standard carry and propagation trays.
What is the environmental impact of Vertical Farming?
Modern farming methods can devastate the environment, so it is essential to reduce this effect to improve sustainability. Controlled environment agriculture systems:
- Create no loss of nutrients in the environment
- Reduce land use
- Have better control of waste
- Use 70-80% less water than traditional growing (did you know that 70% of the freshwater available for human use is used for agriculture?)
- Stop the use of expensive materials such as fertiliser. In fields, the soil is usually contaminated with heavy metals or pathogens, either from soil treatments, fertiliser, or naturally.
Food production has several challenges to face in the next few years as it needs to reduce its environmental impact while increasing yield to feed an ever-growing population.
Vertical farming and controlled environmental agriculture offers a realistic solution to these issues as it avoids costly and damaging losses to the environment – whilst also lessening production loss to pests, disease and extreme weather. Consequently, it offers year-round crop production and increased growing time per day – as there is no need for the sun – giving a steady productivity rate.