The Future of Farming: How Vertical, Traditional and Greenhouse Farms Fit Together [Part 5 of 5]

The Future of Farming: How Vertical, Traditional and Greenhouse Farms Fit Together [Part 5 of 5]
[Part 5 of 5] This is the fifth post in a 5-part series on the differences between vertical farms and greenhouses, and the considerations that will help farming entrepreneurs decide which is right for their situation.
At this point, the end of this series, we’ve discussed every major difference between vertical farms and greenhouses: The right locations for each (in Part 1), energy-related differences due to lighting and climate control (in Part 2), other costs to think about as entrepreneurs (in Part 3), and the different environmental impacts and opportunities, as well as the crops that can be grown in each type of farm (in Part 4).

If you read the entire series, you may have noticed a theme: Greenhouses come with more flexibility (the options to use pesticides or not, use climate control or not, and use artificial light or not) and, often, more uncertainty and the associated variance in output. While vertical farms – the epitome of controlled agriculture – offer less flexibility and higher costs, but more dependably high yields.
Those are the technical differences, but what are the big-picture questions about indoor farming and the future of agriculture? Those are the ideas we want to introduce today, to at least begin an important conversation.

To start, every expert and entrepreneur we talked to agreed on this: The challenges of feeding the world in the 21st century will require innovation across the technological spectrum.
Indoor Farming, Global Food Security, and Social Impact
In the context of global food security, neither vertical farms nor greenhouses can be the sole solution.

But in places where the right drivers align – especially the availability of renewable energy – vertical farms have the potential to bring higher-quality, fresher foods and improved nutrition to a wide variety of people. They allow vitamin-rich, high-value foods that supplement our staples to be produced locally, even in cold and rainy Northern climates and dry sandy deserts of Middle East where local produce is practically nonexistent.
As we’ve discussed, Vertical farms and greenhouses can also both bring collateral social benefits – from offering employment to people with special needs, as does Vertical Harvest in United States, to collaborating with local schools to provide education opportunities and improve nutrition, as does AeroFarms.
What Impact Will Urban Farms Have on Jobs and Rural Farmers?
Looking to the future, indoor farming can free up rural land for crops that can’t be grown indoors, and for organic and polyculture farming techniques that require more land – thus allowing more outdoor farms to focus on niche produce or convert to organic. Traditional farmers can also focus on local markets where the population density wouldn’t justify a vertical farm.

“Vertical farming is not here to replace greenhouses or replace outdoor farming,” says Ramin Ebrahimnejad, a CEA expert and the vice-chair of the Association for Vertical Farming, “because you can’t. This is a very new industry in its infancy, and it’s just here to supplement both outdoor farms and also greenhouses.”

Even if that weren’t the case, with current population growth estimates (global population reaching 9.7 billion people by 2050, with most of us living in cities), we’ll need to take advantage of every viable method to grow fresh, healthy food. Vertical farming is just one piece of the puzzle.
Why Future Needs an Indoor Farming
Today, growing food on the land, outside of cities, out of sight and out of mind, allows urbanites to continue to believe that farms really are the bucolic ideal we see depicted on milk cartons. But one need only read a Michael Pollan book to understand what many modern farms really look like: Gray, lifeless soil depleted of its fertility by monoculture, and the accompanying pesticides and overuse of fertilisers. Computer rooms in farm houses to monitor the daily administration of these patented chemicals. Long commutes in diesel-fueled trucks for the produce to reach all but the nearest markets.

This is the land- and chemical-intensive reality of what we call “traditional farming” today. Our food is already sourced from high-tech agriculture; vertical farms and greenhouses simply make that agriculture more local, cleaner, and less land-intensive, while delivering fresher, more nutritious food to more people.

“Every aspect of the food system has to change, and vertical farms are going to play their role,” Ebrahimnejad says. “And it’s just the beginning. So where we go from here is just up.”
Today, automation is bringing incredible productivity growth and other benefits to a variety of industries. The future of industrial growth is moving away from manual labor towards a high-tech symbiosis of human and machine, where highly skilled laborers use their minds more than their muscles. iFarm’s StackGrow technology represents a big step on the cutting edge of industrial automation in the agriculture sector, mechanizing a majority of the labor involved in growing and harvesting. It has already shown tremendous results in terms of efficiency, and is designed in such a way that it will continue to improve as the software learns and the hardware is produced at scale.

iFarm founder and CEO Alex Lyskovsky sees big growth for automated indoor farms in the near-term, and is also thinking big about long-term and even interplanetary growth for vertical farming.

“There are real plans out there to send people to Mars. It’s clear to me that automated vertical farms are the technology that the first Mars colonists will use for their nutrition. And it’s not just calories and vitamins -- it’s fresh, tasty, and healthy food.”

Alexander Lyskovsky
CEO, iFarm

We hope you’ve found this five-part series useful and thought-provoking! If you haven’t already, check out the other posts – about the importance of location, energy, other costs and environmental considerations and crops.

And now tell us, what other questions do you have about indoor farming?

To ask a question, or learn more about starting a profitable vertical farming business, reach out to our friendly team at iFarm today!