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Can Vertical Farming Be the Answer to Sustainable Agriculture?

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Can Vertical Farming Be the Answer to Sustainable Agriculture?

by IAAS LC UNS – Naurah Syifa Aludra

What is Vertical Farming?

To get things started, let’s get packed into one thinking bubble first. When we hear the word “Vertical Farming”, the definition is biased whether if it is just a home-made bottled plant stacked vertically, an architectural project, or even industrial farm kind of stuff. Speaking it word for word, it can be all three, but to get it into one frame, the Vertical Farm (VF) that we are going to talk about is basically any farm which grow plant in a vertically-stacked controlled-environment, with the goal of maximizing the effectiveness of location’s square footage. So the concept is that it must have controlled microclimates, microbial availability, or even nutrients provided; is vertically-stacked; and aiming the goal mentioned above. This leads us to the concept of a greenhouse which has similar system in controlling the agriculture environment (except that it is stacked), and indeed they are alike. They do actually have similar backgrounds approached.

photo by rumah.com

What are the problems approached?

Along with the increasing agricultural yields, higher and higher doses of agricultural chemical compounds are needed to do the same job as the year before, since many plants species and ((hama)) have developed some level of resistance to the previous compounds used. Now thinking of fertilizers specifically, they are used almost by all commercial farming because the crops require more nutrients than the soil can provide, so it is very possible for it to continuously enhance the growth of weeds that makes herbicides usage being almost as inevitable as it is. This leads to agrochemical runoff being the single most damaging pollution that goes in disastrous “profitdamage” relationship. The amount of water needed to fulfil the farm’s needs is also quite massive, not to mention the probability for the crops to be damaged and dented by the big weather events like floods, droughts, or storms, and don’t forget all the pest threats too. The costs of money, environmental safety, and this world’s future are all pawned greatly.

To take it further into land usage, as humans, we got lands yet we need both food and places to linger. But as the numbers of the world population grow crazily bigger and bigger each year, we need to choose wisely how we use our land for. Land is important for agriculture asset, but so is for our places to live, yet we won’t have adequate of it for both in the future if we don’t use it wisely in this present time.

Is Vertical Farming the answer?

Having greater output from a small cultivation area, VF uses 95% less water than the conventional farm and each day, about 6,5% of the total water used amount is not absorbed by the vegetables but being circulated again in the system in charge of recycling water. It is processed and sprayed once more and the loop is closed. Vertical farming with its microclimates also can produce crops year-round, without concerning the season or weather variables which increases production efficiency by a multiplier of 4 to 6 depending on the crop. This too can lead to VF be an extra-flexible farming system because it basically means it can be done anywhere which then can affect the distributing (transportation and storage) cost. VF with its controlled environment makes it possible for plants to receive one hour of sunlight exposure with fifteen minutes break for twenty-four hours rather than the regular twelve hours non-stop one which already been proven by Harun (2013) ‘s experiment, can increase photosynthesis performance up to 291%. Harmful pest threats too can be eliminated because its fully-controlled environment, which furthermore can eliminate dangerous agrochemical compounds that can harm the ecology as well as the consumers. Methane digesters can even help convert organic waste to energy to help power the building.

Even though it sounds all good and promising, there always be the dark side of the moon. Besides the fact that VF contains too much dependency on technology, biggest expense accumulation in the system are addressed for electricity, building maintenance, and operators’ wage which indeed cannot be little. Furthermore, not all kinds of plants can be cultivated in this operational system. It requires the plant to contain chlorophyll, do not have too high plants height, and have quite many harvest periods in a year. These are caused by the average capacity of the vertical stacks which is only about 30-40 cm per row, some food ingredients have low economic value, and long cultivation periods that it will disserve the cost balance. Besides, every kind of plants has its specific characteristics so that it takes specific cultivation method too which differs a lot and that can make the system settings so much more difficult to cope with.

Study References:
Harun A. N, N. N. Ani, R. Ahmad, and N. S. Azmi. 2013. Red and Blue LED with Pulse Lighting Control Treatment for Brassica chinensis in Indoor Farming. IEEE Conference on Open Systems (ICOS): 231-236.
Kalantari F., et al. 2017. A Review of Vertical Farming Technology: A Guide for Implementation of Building Integrated Agriculture in Cities. Advanced Engineering Forum. Vol. 24(1): 76-91.
Royston R.M., Pavithra M. P. 2018. Vertical Farming: A Concept. International Journal of Engineering and Techniques. Volume 4(3): 500-506.
Kozai T., Genhua N., and Michiko T. 2014. Plant Factory: An Indoor Vertical Farming System for Efficient Quality Food Production. London: Charlotte Cockle.
Despomier, Dickson. 2019. Vertical farms, building a viable indoor farming model for cities. Field Actions Science Reports. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/factsreports/5737

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