Why we should keep a close eye on vertical farming trends

A few months ago, I wrote about Zero Carbon Food, an urban, vertical farming initiative in London using hydroponic systems and LED technology in an old World War II bomb shelter where they harvest up to 20 000kg of greens a year.

Vertical farming has a host of benefits – it has the potential to use up to 95% less water than conventional farms and to yield 75 times more crops per square metre of growing space than traditional farming systems.

Vertical farms also create and supply healthy food options within the city. The close proximity ensures fresher produce than alternatives that need to be shipped in from rural areas or other countries. Another benefit is the artificial climate created within these vertical farming areas, allowing for crops throughout the year and not on a seasonal basis.

The more I read up about vertical farming, the clearer it becomes that an initiative like Zero Carbon Food is only the first of a growing trend. As a matter of fact, Voice of America reports that indoor or vertical farming is expected to quadruple over the next five years to nearly US$4 billion (approximately R60 billion at the time of writing).

One of the latest examples in the news is a vertical farm by a company called Aerofarms in New Jersey in the US, which opened the world’s largest vertical farm in March this year. To date, Aerofarms has opened nine vertical farms, with its latest being in a renovated and expanded former steel mill in Newark. Using only water mist and artificial sunlight, it plans to harvest more than 900t of leafy greens like kale from this 6 400m² facility.

The Huffington Post reports Aerofarms plans to build facilities all over the world. Its method of vertical farming is especially lucrative in areas with extreme weather, flooding and desertification.

I have a sense that vertical farming is a full blown industry in the making. Looking at all the redundant urban spaces in and around cities like Johannesburg, I cannot help but wonder if we’ll see a vertical farm or two producing fresh goods from a converted warehouse or office building within the next few years!

Leopold Malan has more than 20 years’ experience in the IT sector, the majority of those years spent consulting and working within the financial services space. He currently heads up integrated processing, systems and IT division at BrightRock, provider of needs-matched life insurance.