Given the current worldwide demand for food, and the total world population expected to grow to nearly ten million people by 2050, new technological farming methods are required to adapt to our changing world.
One of most innovative new methods of sustainable agriculture is vertical farming, which is the practice of producing food on vertically inclined surfaces. Traditional farming involves ploughing vast areas of land to make way for crops on a single level, such as in a field or in a greenhouse, but vertical farming takes the idea of a greenhouse to the next level, growing crops in plant beds stacked over multiple story’s.
Using Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) technology, this modern idea uses indoor farming techniques. The ability to control temperature, light, humidity and gases makes producing foods and medicine indoors possible, 365 days a year, regardless of weather conditions.
In vertical farming, there are four critical areas that determine a successful operation. These include physical layout, lighting, growing medium and sustainability features.
Apps allow effective planning of vertical farming systems including layout design, planning of hydroponics systems, pipework and more.
Dutch company Philips Lighting recently introduced ‘light recipes’ which automatically optimise lighting for each specific crop over its lifecycle. This can help increase crop yields and reduce operating costs, optimising energy efficiency by using up to 85% less energy than typical LED lighting. When paired with apps to optimise lighting and store data, growing efficiency and energy usage can be monitored and optimised to increase yield and save costs.
The future is automated. Even growing plants will be done by robots. Well not just yet, but there are apps which allow custom growing settings to be saved, meaning that you can set the lighting, temperature, humidity and soil ph levels in your vertical farm warehouse and not have to worry about them for a while. Many offer a realtime video overview of plants and some will even notify you when it is time to harvest your crops, its almost like playing a farm simulation game.
As technology evolves, it is highly likely that it will become possible to completely control a farm remotely from an app, thereby reducing labour costs and time spent surveying crops.
With the addition of remote sensors, apps are available to notify you of any changes or updates to a crop, such as a drop in ph level of the soil, temperature or maybe even a bulb going. It provides information more quickly and more accurately than what you may be able to see with the naked eye, particularly if a vertical farm is too high to reach.
Although live, realtime monitoring of your farm offers a wealth of benefits, the storage of data from previous crops is also important. Graphs and statistics from previous grow cycles can help you optimise systems to improve efficiency.
Farms of all sizes and disciplines can benefit from vertical farming methods.