Farming systems for vertical farms with iFarm technologies

A vertical farm is an "indoor ecosystem" based on controlled-environment agriculture technology (CEA), where lighting, climate, and other parameters are constantly monitored and controlled.

High-tech indoor agriculture involves using growing systems — sets of equipment designed for cultivating plants. These systems include plant pots, watering and irrigation mechanisms, pumps, sensors, valves, and other control equipment.

The growing system is the "engine" of the farm, dictating the speed of plant growth, yield, and, ultimately, profits.
Farming systems: hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics
Vertical farming systems employ soilless cultivation methods. Plants grow in nutrient-rich solutions instead of soil, making food production pesticide-free.

The most common vertical farming system is hydroponics. In hydroponics, plants develop their roots in a special substrate and get a nutrient solution that contains all the elements and minerals necessary for growth. There are dozens of types of hydroponic growing systems. In this article, we will focus only on hydroponic methods used by iFarm.

Aquaponics is a farming system that combines hydroponics and aquaculture. The fish waste provides nutrients to the plants, while the plants filter the water for the fish. This co-cultivation system benefits both the fish and plants.

Another growing system for vertical farms is aeroponics. Aeroponics is not a separate growing method but rather a variety of hydroponics. It is very different from traditional types of hydroponics and requires a much more precise approach to solution preparation, renewal, and maintenance.
Hydroponic farming systems in iFarm technologies
iFarm uses various hydroponic systems in its vertical farming technologies, including the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Deep Flow Technique (DFT), drip irrigation system, and Flood & Drain method.

All the systems are active—they rely on moving parts to work. Farming systems are fully automated, which means that farm operations require minimal human labor.

Choosing the right hydroponic growing system is crucial for maximum yield and your farm's operational efficiency. iFarm agronomists will help you select the optimal system for your vertical farm and its economics.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Deep Flow Technique (DFT)
The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is a widely used hydroponic farming system. It employs a pump to deliver nutrient-rich water to the growing trays and a drain pipe to recycle any unused solution. In this system, the nutrient solution flows in a thin film over the roots, ensuring that they receive adequate hydration and nutrition without being completely submerged.

The Deep Flow Technique (DFT) is a variation of the NFT technique. The main difference between DFT and NFT lies in the method of nutrient solution delivery to plants. In this growing system, the water flow in the cultivation area is faster, and the throughs are deeper.

In 2023, the iFarm team upgraded these hydroponic techniques for vertical farms. In addition to increasing the water flow rate and nutrient levels in the substrate, iFarm also ran experiments on lighting intensity.

Thanks to these advancements, iFarm vertical farms for leafy greens cultivation now have an estimated payback period of 3.2 years, down from 4.5 years, making it a great investment opportunity.
Flood & Drain
The Flood & Drain or Ebb & Flow hydroponic system involves periodically flooding plant roots with a nutrient solution. The frequency of flooding can vary depending on the plant and substrate, ranging from once to several times per day. The schedule for this process is pre-set and automatic.

In iFarm technologies, the Flood & Drain method is used in seedling areas. This technique provides a higher oxygen level to the plant's root system and positively affects the final yield. In Flood & Drain, the mineral wool is used as a seedling substrate. It is sterile and requires no pre-sowing preparation.

The Flood & Drain technique involves flooding each tray individually to maintain the appropriate level of nutrients for each plant. This is particularly important for vertical farms based on the iFarm Multigreens technology, where various types of crops are grown simultaneously. Thanks to the Flood & Drain method, farmers can customize their vertical farm to align with their business goals and production cycle.
Drip irrigation system
Drip irrigation is one of the most popular hydroponic systems worldwide. In this system, the plant is fed a nutrient solution through special tubes, delivered by a pump and adjustable timer.

iFarm uses a drip irrigation system to grow berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers with its iFarm Berries and iFarm Veggies technologies. The drip irrigation system is utilized in the main growing areas, while the Flood & Drain method is employed in the seedling areas.
Development of aeroponics technology is underway
Aeroponics stands as the pinnacle of hydroponic systems in terms of technology. To the observer, the plants seem to thrive suspended in mid-air. However, the actual process is significantly more complicated.

Specialized atomizers are utilized within the container to accommodate the plants. These atomizers, operated by a timer and pump, deliver a solution in the form of minute droplets to cleanse the plants' roots. This process generates a nourishing mist of nutrients and oxygen that envelops the roots, fostering rapid growth.

In May 2023, the iFarm team initiated research into aeroponics for application in vertical farming. Agronomists conducted experiments growing microgreens, leafy greens, rosemary, and sorrel in an experimental aeroponics unit.

In aeroponics, the growth period for plants is 20-40% shorter, depending on the plant species, with yields up to 30% higher than in other hydroponic systems. Nonetheless, the initial investment and operational expenses are elevated relative to other hydroponic systems due to the complexity of the equipment and the high maintenance cost.
The advanced irrigation system, short plant growth cycle, and no need for the substrate are important advantages for employing aeroponics in compact vertical farms with high-intensity cultivation processes. At the same time, clonal propagation labs are another option for aeroponics applications. It promises better outcomes compared to alternative hydroponic systems.
Nikolai Podvigin
Agricultural technologist at iFarm
Based on successful experiments, iFarm adds aeroponics to its product portfolio.
Aeroponics can be used in new farms and integrated into existing operations to expand the crop portfolio. We are now offering participation in the joint development, implementation, and validation of aeroponics for iFarm vertical farms. If you want to become our partner, please get in touch with the team.
Alexander Lyskovsky
CEO of iFarm

Contact the team to learn more about iFarm vertical farming technologies, become a partner, or launch your own vertical farm