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What is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is a new system which addresses many of the problems faced by crops grown outdoors. With vertical farming, crops are grown indoors in vertically stacked layers.
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So Vertical Future are a technology development company that specialise in developing technology for vertical farming. You might ask, what’s vertical farming? It’s essentially the process of growing plants indoors but on multiple levels. So, for example, if you’re growing on ten levels and you have one square metre, you actually have ten square metres. We use artificial lighting, we use temperature and environmental control and we use lots and lots of sensors to be able to monitor the plants throughout their whole growing period.
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At the moment we’re growing various different crops. We’ve got some trials with basil going on. So this is an out of season basil trial which allows us to look at the advantages of growing basil when you wouldn’t normally be able to grow it outdoors in the UK. We’re also growing a lot of different baby leaf crops as well. We can move in to fruits - so we’ve got strawberries and blueberries and raspberries. Because we can control every aspect of the environment that the plant grows in in a vertical farm, all of these things can be growing year-round in our site.
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Our technology allows you to deliver nutrients, either hydroponically, that basically means through liquid that is flown into the growing beds, or aeroponically, which is basically mists - where you mist the root zones and that allows you to be much more water efficient, much more nutrient and resource-use efficient. We also have our own lighting technology so we can completely change the spectra - so that’s the colours of light that the plant sees, and also the brightness. So it could be a dull winter’s day or it could be a bright summer’s day to fit what that plant needs. It also allows you to completely tune the flavour of the plant as well using the light.
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So the future of vertical farming is massive. Firstly, it’s much more space efficient. We can reduce, almost to zero, the amount of herbicides and pesticides that are going in. It also massively reduces food miles. So right now we’re in central London in a building that you wouldn’t expect to have a farm in which allows us to deliver to local restaurants, to local consumers very very easily with minimal food miles and minimal greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is obviously a big issue, and being able to grow crops in a reliable environment is really important and that’s what we can create here.
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But also the scale: we can go anything from a small scale research site all the way up to a 150,000 square metres. So the future is vast and there’s a lot of advantages of vertical farming.
So far, we’ve looked at crops being grown in fields and considered ways to combat challenges such as weeds, pests, soil erosion and decreasing soil fertility. But what about crops that are grown indoors – and without using any soil at all?

Vertical farming is a new system which addresses many of the problems faced by crops grown outdoors. With vertical farming, crops are grown indoors in vertically stacked layers.

Advantages of Vertical Farming

This means the crops take up less space and can be grown in urban areas. They can also be grown in a controlled environment free from pests and weeds, with factors like temperature and light fine-tuned to optimise plant growth and taste. Vertical farming also often uses hydroponics, where crops are grown in a nutrient-rich solution instead of soil, or aeroponics, where the nutrient rich solution is formed into a mist around the roots.

Vertical Future is a pioneering London-based company which develops the technology to help other farmers around the world grow crops using vertical farming as well as growing crops for research and development purposes. Their aim is to help people grow crops in a more sustainable way to improve human health and reduce food inequality.

Although a relatively new technology, vertical farming is becoming more widespread. According to Dr Jennifer Bromley, Vertical Future’s Head of Plant Research & Development:

The practice of growing crops indoors in vertical farming systems is growing rapidly with operators around the world adopting this technology to make use of areas that would previously not have been in regular agricultural production. Between 2010 and 2016, vertical farming area went from near zero to 2.3 million square feet worldwide and the area under cultivation has been growing even more rapidly since.

In this video, Dr Bromley explains vertical farming and its benefits.

To Discuss

  • What are the advantages of vertical farming for the environment and for consumers?
  • Can you think of any limitations of the technology?
  • What kinds of crops do you think are most suitable to be grown in a vertical farm?
  • Where do you think vertical farming will go in the future? Will vertical farms become widespread, and what are the potential barriers to this?
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