AeroFarms has developed eco-friendly aeroponic technology to take vertical farming to the next level. Image Credit: Morinka/Shutterstock.com
Exponential population growth is putting pressure on many factors of human life. The world has a limited potential to generate resources, and as the population grows, our demand for resources comes close to the maximum output the world can produce. Recent figures estimate that in just two decades, the population will have grown to 9.7 billion, growing from the current estimated 7.7 billion. The number of people in the world who do not have adequate nutrition is close to one billion, with statistics estimating that just under 800 million people are failing to access enough food.
As the population continues to grow, there will be increased farmland competition as more space is needed for housing, schools, and hospitals to accommodate the rising number of people. This problem of malnutrition will worsen unless we make fundamental changes to the face of agriculture.
Another growing pressure on the agriculture sector is the urgency of addressing the reduction of emissions to combat climate change. The latest figures attribute 8.4% of US emissions to agricultural activities.
The agricultural industry is challenged not only to innovate a way to grow more food in a reduced space but to also reduce emissions. A recent innovation in agriculture could provide a solution.
Population Growth, Global Emissions, and Looming Food Crisis Sparks Farming Revolution
Over the last decade, significant development has been made in the area of controlled environmental agriculture in tall buildings, also known as vertical farming. The concept is that rather than growing crops on a single layer, as is done in conventional farming, it makes use of vertical space, growing crops upwards and minimizing the ground area required for farming.
The innovation, which utilizes the technology of aeroponics, will help to create eco-friendly farms that rely significantly less on water and energy. Further developments are required to enable it to fully support environmentally friendly agriculture.
The establishment of vertical farming projects will likely prove vital to solving the increasingly pressing challenge of providing enough food for the population while addressing climate change issues.
What is Aeroponics?
The establishment of vertical farming has been achieved thanks to the development of a farming technique known as aeroponics. The method accommodates the growth of crops in vertical-stacked plant beds, using artificial techniques to assume the roles of natural sources of light, water, and soil.
Aeroponics allows for the specific growing conditions to be controlled for each crop type, maximizing crop yield and growing more crops per square foot of land without accounting for the vertical stacked space.
One vertical farming project in New Jersey, US, believes it can grow up to 70 times more produce than conventional farms.
How Vertical Farming Reduces Environmental Impact
Other than tackling the looming food crisis, the main aim of vertical farming is to lessen the impact that conventional farming has on the environment in several ways. Firstly, because significantly less land is required to achieve the same crop output, experts argue that a significant switch towards vertical farming will allow more land that has previously been dedicated to farming to be returned to its natural state. This will allow diverse ecosystems to thrive in the absence of destructive modern farming techniques.
Data has also confirmed that this form of environmentally-friendly farming uses up to 90% less water than conventional farms. This benefits the environment by reducing the energy used to pump the water, which leads to emissions and contributes to greenhouse gases. It also means that fewer chemicals are used because less wastewater is being produced that requires chemical treatment.
Because vertical farming projects are usually set up in urban areas, such as in abandoned factories or similar buildings, produce doesn’t have to travel as far as it would when grown on farms to reach urban populations. This means that there is a reduced need for transportation, indirectly reducing carbon dioxide emissions by decreasing the need to transport produce.
However, vertical farms still require large amounts of energy to run, and this needs to be addressed to further add to the advantages of this revolutionary farming method. To power the artificial conditions produced for its crops, a significant amount of energy is required. Some argue that it counteracts the environmental benefits of a vertical farm, limiting its virtues as an eco-friendly farming example.
While development is needed before vertical farming can be widely adopted, some companies in the sector are already contributing significant advancements, helping the technology to move forward.
AeroFarms: Taking Vertical Farming to the Next Level
AeroFarms was recently named as one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies in the world in the data science category. The company has developed award-winning aeroponic technology that constructs tailored conditions to meet the needs of each crop species. The technology also boasts the benefits of being minimal in terms of its environmental impact.
Data science is the foundation of the success of AeroFarm’s method. The company has created patented vertical farming technology that utilizes data to maximize the efficiency of crop growth. AeroFarms considers itself to be industry-leading in terms of how it has developed an understanding of plant biology which it uses to increase the productivity of its eco-friendly farms.
Combining revolutionary technology in the form of machine learning and machine vision, alongside the integration of the internet of things, which helps to incorporate data collected from sensors, has led the company to success in growing over 500 million plants to date, of more than 300 varieties.
The company is capitalizing on partnerships with influential market leaders, such as Dell Technologies, to advance its competency at automation and analysis of data, helping to increase plant health, growth and yield.
Video Source: Stories/YouTube.com
The Impact of Eco-Friendly Farming
The model that has been demonstrated by AeroFarms will likely be influential in informing how the agriculture sector will develop in the future. Its innovative use of data and technology to grow crops vertically, minimizing the use of ground space and reducing the impact of farming on the environment, will need to be adopted by future agricultural companies to address the growing food crisis and meet emissions targets.
References and Further Reading
AeroFarms Named to Fast Company’s 2019 Most Innovative Companies, AeroFarms, https://aerofarms.com/2019/02/20/aerofarms-named-to-fast-companys-2019-most-innovative-companies/
Is vertical farming really sustainable?, EIT Food, Tessa Naus, https://www.eitfood.eu/blog/post/is-vertical-farming-really-sustainable
Latest agriculture emissions data show rise of factory farms, IATP, Ben Lilliston, https://www.iatp.org/blog/201904/latest-agriculture-emissions-data-show-rise-factory-farms
What You Should Know About Vertical Farming, The Balance Small Business, Rick Leblanc, https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-you-should-know-about-vertical-farming-4144786
World's largest vertical farm grows without soil, sunlight or water in Newark, The Guardian, Malavika Vyawahare, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/14/world-largest-vertical-farm-newark-green-revolution
5 Startups That Prove Tech Can Solve The World’s Biggest Problems, AeroFarms, https://aerofarms.com/2018/08/30/5-startups-that-prove-tech-can-solve-the-worlds-biggest-problems/