FEEDING THE WORLD
Simply put – the world population continues to expand, and so does the quantity of foodstuffs required to feed everyone.
Land is scarce, transport costs are high, and global climate changes are making more areas unsuitable as growing mediums.
Vertical / Urban farming can play a critical role in the solution to this problem.
THE PROVISION OF FOOD SECURITY AND FOOD ACCESSIBILITY
This is not just new technology for the sake of it. There are clear benefits to vertical farming.
A properly functioning vertical farm will generate fresh produce that offers total traceability. Produce is grown in a soil-free, “clean room” environment and will dramatically reduce the possibility of such things as E. coli outbreaks.
Vertical Farms have no dependence upon seasonal weather conditions, no interference from airborne diseases or pests, crops are grown in a soil-free, herbicide and pesticide-free controlled environment, with automated artificial lighting systems. The vertical farm, operates 24/7 for 365 days a year and in some instances, produces up to 10x the crop numbers in comparison to traditional farming methods.
Understanding plant growth is a big plus. Achieving maximum yields whilst naturally enhancing flavour of the produce is the key, as well as situating the farms exactly where they are required to make the food accessible and to restrict the carbon costs and financial costs of distribution.
Consumers no longer have to wait for produce to be “in season.” There is also no worry about spoilage due to weather conditions, which enables maximised production.
THE NATIONAL FARMERS UNION (NFU) & VERTICAL FARMS
In the recent Future of Food 2040 report, Dr. Andrea Graham (NFU Head of Policy Services) looked to the future of farming, highlighting that robots, vertical farming and virtual fencing are here to stay and that it was “time for the industry to look forward and be optimistic about the part that British farmers can play in producing safe, quality, affordable food, for a growing population, in a sustainable way.”
An increase in the global population and the need to mitigate climate change will provide opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity and reduce its impact on the environment by championing our climate friendly food.
Dr. Andrea Graham, NFU Head of Policy Services
Investing in innovation specifically supports farm businesses and which helps address productivity challenges through the provision of targeted investment, research and development support, and incentivising the adoption of technical advances is what helps strengthen food system resilience within the farming sector.
Health is becoming a key ingredient and according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), in the 5 years to 2017, there was a 14% increase in the proportion of food served specifically selected for health reasons. The constant movement towards fresh and natural food is being driven by this growth.
There is a discernibly strong link between agricultural and horticultural productivity, investment, and the uptake of innovation.
The adoption of new technology will also help agriculture reduce its environmental burden through the ability to carry out operations more precisely and with fewer resources, further reducing its impact on the natural environment.
We are here to stay
Hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics and other controlled environment systems will not just be a niche market or a novel urban enterprise. While growing crops undercover and the use of hydroponics is not new, the introduction of vertical stacking and recent advances in LED technology will have expanded the range of crops it is possible to grow in this way.
Supermarkets are already taking an active interest in how this might fit their business model(s) of the future, specifically because of the potential for saving energy and inputs like fertilisers, reducing waste, while also guaranteeing consistency of quality and supply and the potential for nutritional enhancement. Leafy salads, some vegetables and fruit will all be widely grown in this way.
The role of data will be transformative, presenting new opportunities for the development of smarter applications, tools and services and creating better real-time management, market intelligence and monitoring.
We are currently on the verge of a new era – one where we see the true interface of both life sciences and computer sciences which together may liberate the potential of a whole system approach tailored to individual farm businesses.
There are several key elements which food production must also help to fulfil:
- Achieving Net Zero contribution to climate change – increased efficiency and reduction in carbon
- Embracing the role of renewable energy
- Diversification into new markets of sustainable growing methods and embracing new technology to increase output
- Feed where there are food shortages