With the global demand for food expected to increase substantially by 2050, farmers have been forced to embrace new and innovative agricultural practices.
Vertical farming is one of the latest techniques used to deliver the necessary yield required to offset the forecasted demand for food. This technique involves growing crops by stacking plants in vertically inclined rack systems.
In this post, we explore what vertical farming is all about and why you should try it in your next farming cycle.
Is Vertical Farming Good for the Environment?
Yes. Vertical farming is good for the environment. Heralded by many as the future of agriculture, this farming technique supports different growing methods, ranging from hydroponics to aeroponics. Most importantly, it incorporates Controlled Environment Agriculture that allows farmers to have much control over growing conditions for their plants.
In essence, you can control the amount of light, oxygen, temperature, nutrients, and pH levels required for optimal crop production. This goes a long way to reduce the supposedly negative impact of agriculture on the environment.
Vertical farming is in most cases soilless, and this leaves arable land intact and at the same time, it reduces the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that could harm the environment.
Since vertical farming does not require any equipment to sow, fertilize, or harvest crops, it minimizes the amount of fossil fuels used to operate the farm.
Is Vertical Farming Cost-effective?
The economic feasibility of running vertical farm cuts across the board. In essence, setting up a vertical farm comes with large upfront costs, but the long-term benefits make it more cost-effective in the end.
For starters, you have to invest in the right infrastructure to set up your farm. Besides, vertical farming is technology-dependent, meaning you have to buy the right technological equipment used in controlled environment agriculture.
The good news is that vertical farming supports increased efficiency in agriculture, coupled with the reduced use of resources.
All these benefits make up for the high infrastructural costs and capital expenditure.
If you are growing microgreens you may want to check 4 Best Microgreens For Smoothies.
What Are the Cons of Vertical Farming?
1. Technology dependent
Vertical farming is not dependent on a specific technology, but a wide range of technologies for managing temperature, controlling humidity, monitoring lighting, and balancing pH levels. A single fault could affect the entire system subsequently to losses.
Besides, the processes involved are somewhat complex and they require some level of expertise to run a vertical farm optimally.
2. Requires expert set up
Setting up a vertical farm is not a do-it-yourself task. The entire system consists of sophisticated equipment and advanced infrastructure that require an expert hand to set up. Any wrong assembly could lead to failure.
3. Reduced pollination
Pollination is important for the survival of plant ecosystems. The transfer of pollen from one plant to another helps in crop production and guarantees the existence of various plants for generations to come.
Unfortunately, vertical farming is carried out in a controlled, indoor environment, meaning there is less pollination between plants.
Besides, pollinators such as birds and bees cannot find their way into the farm due to the restricted access.
4. Requires lots of electricity for certain crops
Many people laud vertical farming for its high energy efficiency and eco-friendliness. However, growing certain crops such as grains and fruits may not be economically viable because they require plenty of light.
5. Affects communities
Many communities, especially in rural areas, depend on open field farming as their main source of income.
With vertical farming growing in stature every day, and more consumers opting for produce from vertical farms, traditional farmers may lose the livelihoods.
What Are the Pros of Vertical Farming?
1. Increased crop production
Vertical farming involves growing crops in a controlled environment. This gives farmers much control over various factors required for optimal plant growth, subsequently leading to stable crop yields.
With improved efficiency and controlled resource use, farmers can predict how much fruits or vegetables they should expect to harvest every farming cycle.
2. Better space utilization
Traditional farming requires several acres of arable land to produce enough food to meet the demand. However, as the global population increases, agricultural land continues to become scarce. This means that agriculturists have to look for alternative ways to grow their crops.
Vertical farming offers a viable solution to scarcity of land. It supports more efficient use of land via its stacking system. Besides, you can grow your crops even in challenging environments that do not have soil like apartments, restaurants, and commercial spaces.
3. Reduced water usage
Like hydroponic systems, vertical farming is extremely water efficient. Given that it is a controlled farming system, you can save as much as 95% of water.
Moreover, the water used to irrigate the crops is not lost to evaporation or runoff, and you can recycle and reuse it several times in one farming cycle.
4. Less labor costs
Vertical farming does not require dozens of laborers to sow, weed, or harvest the crops. Once the infrastructure is set up, you can handle other tasks on your own.
Besides, most of the processes are fully-automated and they require low-level skills. You may only need a little help when it is time to sort and pack your yields.
5. Preserves the environment
One major benefit of vertical farming is that it is eco-friendly. The fact that it leaves the land surface intact goes a long way to prevent soil degradation and erosion, thus saving the environment.
Moreover, vertical farming does not require the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and this helps in preserving the environment.
6. High energy efficiency
Artificial lighting used in vertical farming can be somewhat expensive. However, many farmers opt for LED lighting, which is significantly cheaper than other forms of lighting systems.
Moreover, many vertical farms are capable of producing their energy, thus reducing the overall costs of running these indoor farms.
7. No occupational hazards
Unlike traditional farming that comes with occupational hazards such as exposure to chemicals, risks of handling of heavy machinery, and heat-related illnesses, vertical farming is extremely safe.
You do not have to operate heavy equipment or spray harsh chemicals and pesticides. Instead, all operations are fully automatic, thus making vertical farming human-friendly and sustainable.
8. Unaffected by weather conditions
When you embrace vertical farming, you do not have to worry about the weather. This innovative farming method occurs in a climate-controlled environment, hence it is not affected by adverse weather conditions.
Moreover, you do not have to wait for particular seasons to grow certain foods. You can grow your fruits and vegetables even during winter, provided that you maintain the right temperatures.
What Features to Look for in Rack System for Microgreens?
In case you want to venture into vertical farming, you need to buy the best rack systems for your leafy greens and microgreens. Finding the best vertical farming shelves can be a challenge if you don’t know what you look for. Here are a few features you need to check out to help you choose the right rack system for microgreens.
Vertical rack systems have different capacities. When shopping for the ideal rack, consider the number of shelves a unit has v.s. the number of crops you want to plant.
Remember to check the spacing between the racks to allow for easy inspection, watering, and harvesting. The rack should also be expandable to accommodate new seedlings and plants.
A good rack for vertical farming should be stable, but portable so that you can move it from site to site in case you are relocating elsewhere or you want to change its position.
When shopping for a rack system for vertical farming, always consider the material used for the shelves. The ideal material should be waterproof and resistant to rust or corrosion. It should also be rigid and durable to withstand fluctuations in temperature.
Although most rack systems require expert installation, you should consider buying a rack that is easy to set up so that you can save on installation costs.
Ideally, the rack should come with a user-guide or instructions booklet for easy, do-it-yourself assembly.
You might also want to check 3 Popular Knifes For Cutting Microgreens.
3 Best Rack Systems for Microgreens
Here are three vertical rack systems you should consider.
Grow Rack – Automated Vertical Propagation Rack
The Grow Rack propagation rack is simple, portable, and durable. It comes fully assembled from the factory, meaning you don’t have to hire a pro to install it for you.
This particular rack features three tiers, and it can fit up to 12 flats at a go.
The GreenHouse MicroGreen Rack features 16 growing channels with plenty of room for natural lighting. Although the rack is designed for greenhouses, you can use it with your hydroponic system or vertical farm.
CropKing MicroGreen Rack
Growing leafy greens and microgreens has never been easier. The CropKing MicroGreen Rack offers a self-contained growing system that can hold up to 96 standard trays at once.
It supports artificial lighting with ample room for extra lighting systems.
Vertical farming comes with dozens of benefits to the grower, the environment, and the general population.
Even though it is yet to pick up in many places, there is no doubt that it is just a matter of time before more farmers jump onto the bandwagon.