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Vertical farming: The future of agriculture

Vertical farming – producing plants within stacked layers as part of a controlled-environment in which all environmental factors can be controlled – will be increasingly present within the world’s cities, providing a local farming resource that reduces the necessity for transportation and provides fresh local food for city dwellers.

The most significant benefit of vertical farms is that they are more sustainable than traditional farms, which use large amounts of water. According to the US Geological Survey, around 70% of all freshwater consumed is used for agriculture and only about half of it can be recycled after using, with a swelling population and increasing water scarcity, reducing water consumption in agriculture is crucial.

Another benefit of vertical farming is that it is not dependent on the weather due to its environment being controlled, meaning farmers can achieve a consistent year-round crop production without the threat of adverse weather conditions. Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) is what allows vertical farming to be used year round, controlling factors like air, temperature, light, water, humidity, carbon dioxide, and plant nutrition to extend the growing season and crop yield.

One of the main drawbacks of vertical farming is the initial high costs of building a farm. According to research conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Food and Rural Affairs, the initial building costs would exceed $100m for a 60-hectare vertical farm. High costs are not only limited to construction but also the space needed to build a farm.

Although currently vertical farming methods are not quite cost efficient given the energy costs of sustaining the environment, it is likely by 2050, when the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion, that efficiencies will have improved to the extent that goods produced in vertical farms will make up a significant proportion of consumer produce.

The coronavirus pandemic has become a major worry for farmers globally, inhibiting the access of agricultural laborers and also causing issues with international supply chains, which has heightened interest in vertical farming. The travel restrictions implemented by the majority of countries globally is creating labor shortages, with migrant seasonal workers being the worst hit.