Vertical Farming

Vertical Farming
An Innovative Approach For Horticulture Sector

Reetika Sharma and Parshant Bakshi
Hunger rates are worrisomely high on a global scale, driven by the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, poverty and inequality. According to the Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC), they surpassed all previous records in 2021. The GRFC 2022 findings state that there are currently 53 countries/territories with close to 193 million people who are severely food insecure and in need of immediate assistance and grow significantly due to the crises in Afghanistan and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Comparing this to the previous peak attained in 2020, there has been an increase of roughly 40 million individuals (reported in the GRFC 2021). Innovative thinkers are exploring alternatives to traditional farming as urban populations continue to grow in order to feed everyone with less negative environmental effects on our land and water supplies. One such approach that has been put into practice all around the world is vertical farming. In order to conserve space and utilise the least amount of energy and water for irrigation, fruit crops can be grown conveniently in urban environments by stacking them vertically, known as vertical farming.
The vertical farming industry is still in its infancy in India, but there are a few entrepreneurs and agri-tech firms trying to change it. Professor Dickson Despommier first put forth the current idea of vertical farming in 1999. His idea was to grow food close to where it would be consumed, cutting down on transportation time and distance while doing so. In order to have fresher fruits and vegetables available faster and at a lower price, he aimed to grow more food in urban areas. As a result, vertical farming is defined as the cultivation and production of plants and crops on surfaces that are inclined vertically and stacked vertically. The plants are arranged physically in a tower-like structure. In this manner, the amount of space needed to cultivate plants is reduced. Then, to keep the plants in the ideal atmosphere for a successful growth, a combination of artificial and natural lighting is used. The third element is the plant’s growth medium. Aeroponic, hydroponic, and aquaponic gardening techniques use growing mediums such as cocopeat, perlite, vermiculite, rock wool, and many others in lieu of soil. Vertical farming becomes sustainable by using 95% less water than other horticultural techniques as the approach gets more scientific and efficient. Vertical farming enables growers to grow seasonal or regional crops year-round inside, whereas traditional farming’s yield is constrained by geography and seasonal variations. They can create a greenhouse or other controlled environment anyplace to cultivate crops.
As a result, consumers may have better access to fresher produce, especially those who live in urban regions that are normally far from conventional farm fields. Although the high costs of vertical farming are frequently deterring, shipping containers and vacant warehouses are widely accessible and reasonably priced. Parking lots and metropolitan areas can now have fresh food thanks to the conversion of these spaces into vertical farming ecosystems, which also gives new life to abandoned infrastructure. In situations where traditional open-field farming is impractical, such as deserts and densely populated cities, vertical farms are being constructed. The main drawback is that you lose access to the Sun, the most abundant (and cost-free) energy source on Earth. Artificial light sources are frequently necessary for growing plants vertically in stacked systems, and these sources can be expensive. HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems are expensive and use a lot of energy needed for vertical farming to control humidity. Another drawback is the overall lack of knowledge and experience in increasing horticultural output in a controlled environment.
The majority of cultivars currently used in vertical farming are also used in open field cultivation. As a result, fruits and produce cultivated through vertical farming are usually equivalent to or equal to those grown through traditional field production in terms of nutrition, flavour, and quality. The practise of vertical farming is new. Even though it is still a small market today, it has enormous development potential as crop production, automation, and environmental control technologies advance and energy costs drop. Urban horticulture has been practised for millennia, but the industry of climate-controlled urban farming is still nascent. To increase the profitability and productivity of modern urban farms, interdisciplinary research in genetics, plant biology and physiology, horticulture, farming systems, engineering and physics will be required. Over the years, horticulture scholars have contributed knowledge that has benefitted broad-acre farmers and consumers. Similar support must be given to urban horticulture if it is to help feed expanding urban populations in the face of rising climate variability.
(The authors are Ph.D Scholar Fruit Science1 and Prof and Head ACHR Udheywala)