According to projections by the USDA, a quarter of the world’s food supply may need to be reimagined in the next 10 years. Changes in response to this are anticipated to result in disruptions, and as such, new strategies for innovation are already being developed.
Switching to vertical growing, for example, has emerged as an effective and sustainable technique. This technique saves as much as 90% of land space, allowing farms to be developed on land with limited space.
For example, using this technique, a traditional 10-hectare farm could be feasibly squeezed into a complex that occupies a maximum of 2,000 square meters.
In this article, we’ll explore vertical farming systems, discuss the prospects for the produce industry as a whole, and go over how Silo can help your produce business.
What is vertical growing?
Vertical growing involves stacking crops vertically on shelves in a controlled indoor environment. This technique consumes far less land, water, and electricity compared to traditional operations. Since most of these growing complexes are developed in urban settings, produce travels a very short distance to get to shelves, making this method highly sustainable.
With the world's population expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 and arable land at an all-time low, a food crisis in the near future is a very real possibility.
Vertical farming systems can address this issue by providing ten times the output of traditional methods with the same amount of land area. These systems provide a promising approach to feeding the world while putting far less strain on certain available resources.
Vertical farming produce can be sourced back to ancient practices
While vertical systems have been proposed as a solution, it’s actually not that new of a method. King Nebuchadnezzar II's Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built between 605 to 562 BC, is the earliest known example of vertical gardening. The gardens were a gift from the king to Queen Amytis, who missed her homeland's lush greenery.
The garden's grand structure was square, with each side measuring 120 meters. The edifice was built of bricks, the garden divided into tiers, with the uppermost gallery reaching 50 cubits in height.
Water from the Euphrates river was drawn from the bottom to the catchment at the top using a chain pump. This ground-breaking design led to the emergence of the modern concept of vertical growing.
Why adopt vertical growing?
Now that you know what vertical systems are, you may be wondering how you as a produce business can benefit from either adopting it or working with businesses that make use of it.
For one, vertical systems use significantly less water while helping avoid the need for deforestation. It also offers the advantage of year-round production and produces more per square foot.
Traditional farming is threatened by natural calamities like floods, droughts, and wildfires, as well as unpredictable weather patterns. The effects of this are dramatically decreased in regulated vertical farming settings. This makes the supply chain far less vulnerable to disturbances.
When plants are grown indoors, the use of farming machinery for plowing, planting, and other purposes is also minimized, conserving land and lowering carbon emissions. Plus, the fact that vertical farming vegetables and fruits are grown in complexes means that space can be used for multiple purposes, whether it’s shopping centers, cafeterias, or other facilities.
Vertical growing techniques
So how are vertical systems actually carried out? Here are some common techniques used.
In hydroponics, crops are suspended in water instead of soil. The nutrients required for plants to grow are dissolved in the aquatic solution itself, reducing the need for soil.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics. Simply put, the waste produced by fish aquaculture serves as plant fertilizer. The plant beds, in turn, operate as a bio-filter, removing acids, gasses, and other contaminants from the water. The filtered water is then pumped back into the fish tank.
The objective here is to establish a symbiotic interaction between the two and develop a healthy ecosystem while deriving maximum benefit. Aquaponics also has the highest yield due to the fish components present.
Aeroponics, as the name implies, is the practice of growing plants in the air rather than in the soil or in water. Sprinklers are employed in this system to spray mist or nutrient solutions, which are absorbed by the crops. It requires no soil, less space, and very little water to sustain.
Why hasn't vertical growing become a widespread solution yet?
If vertical farming produce is so beneficial, it's natural to then wonder why it hasn't gained momentum yet. The main reason for this is the high cost attached to it. Many of these farms are located in metropolitan areas, with high real estate prices and maintenance expenses.
Furthermore, when LED lighting is employed to replicate the sun, energy consumption can become a concern. While certain resources like water are conserved, others like energy are expended. Especially when energy is derived from fossil fuels, vertical systems can, ironically enough, end up being pretty resource-heavy.
The future of the produce industry
Research estimates that in 2022, the fresh vegetable industry will generate $691.20 billion in revenue, with markets predicting an expansion of 6.79% each year between 2022 and 2027.
Evidently, technological developments are a primary driver of this anticipated expansion, but consumer expectations, cultural and societal views, and international trade will also be catalysts at work behind the scenes.
Fruit and vegetable industries are expected to engage in and fund research to reduce the environmental effects of the produce industry, and new technologies will broaden the concept of local and sustainable produce while opening up new opportunities to embrace novel practices such as vertical growing.
Use Silo to get the most out of your produce business
For produce businesses, it’s become vital nowadays to automate processes. Businesses looking to solidify their space in this industry and get ahead of their competition are employing technological solutions like Silo to optimize the structure and effectiveness of their operations.
See how Silo brings inventory details and cash flow controls together with one seamless solution. Take your produce business into the future and book a demo with Silo today!