What is vertical agriculture?
Vertical agriculture is a fully controlled crop production method that can control the temperature, light, gas and humidity of the environment to maximize crop yields in a limited space. At the same time, it can avoid wind, rain and climate change. Usually, very little soil and water are used, and a precisely proportioned nutrient solution is used to support plant growth. Vertical agriculture is a very efficient food production method in areas where arable land is scarce, including cities. The vertical stacking method is used to produce crops, which only takes up a small area. It can also be carried out in a variety of industrial spaces such as buildings and containers. produce.
What problems can vertical agriculture solve?
Let’s first look at a set of data: Global agricultural production takes up 70% of human water consumption, and consumes 3.2 million tons of pesticides and 200 million tons of chemical fertilizers every year. At the same time, compared with 40 years ago, the global arable land has been reduced by 30%… An influential study was published on Biological Conservation last year. The study showed that 40% of the global insect species are declining, and many species will become extinct within a few decades, and the main cause of this species’ hazard is agricultural production. The loss of insect habitats, especially the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, has exacerbated this crisis.
The sustainability of agricultural production has become the focus of global attention. So what kind of agriculture is sustainable? How to develop sustainable agriculture?
Vertical agriculture may be an important direction in the future. The most obvious advantage of vertical farms lies in the full use of resources, space and time. Vertical agriculture saves water and does not have to worry about pests and diseases and natural disasters. It can be harvested 365 days a year, and it can greatly increase crop productivity on the same area of land. Some researchers describe vertical agriculture as follows: crop yields are increased by 390 times, but water consumption is 95% less than normal planting. It does not require sunlight, soil, or pesticides, and it will not cause agricultural pollution.
If vertical agriculture can be popularized, the two types of areas will benefit a lot. The first category is places with dense populations such as Japan and Singapore, but extremely scarce land resources. Of course, in these places, vertical agriculture has taken root. Japan’s plant factories and Singapore’s urban agriculture are all specific models of vertical agriculture systems, or another name; the other types of areas are similar to those in the Middle East and Africa. In water and arid areas, as well as in Russia, which is often cold and unsuitable for growing vegetables, vertical agriculture combined with indoor planting can break through the deficiencies of the natural environment.
What are the advantages of vertical agriculture?
Compared with traditional fields, vertical agriculture has many advantages.
Production can be uninterrupted throughout the year, and production plans can be arranged at will throughout the year. All products are “in-season” crops.
The unit output is high. Vertical farm technology can reasonably achieve a shorter growth cycle and faster harvest, which means that more food can be grown in a much smaller space than traditional farms each year. The grain output per unit area of a vertical farm can reach more than 350 times that of a traditional farm.
Stable quality and output. Industrialized production makes the harvested crops more uniform, more in line with market standards, and reduces waste caused by “defective products”.
Reduce fertilizer usage. Vertical agriculture can reduce water consumption by 95% while reducing the demand for chemical pesticides through strict control, weatherproof, and infection prevention.
Shorten the supply chain. This means that the crops produced in cities are sold directly, minus a lot of transportation distance and time, which can ensure the freshness of food and reduce waste in the supply chain.
The following 13 innovative technologies and their applications represent the latest developments in the field of vertical agriculture that are worth noting:
- Hydroponics-a method of growing plants without soil
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a water-based nutrient-rich solution and is widely used in vertical agriculture. The basic premise of this method is to allow plant roots to be in direct contact with the nutrient solution, while also obtaining oxygen, effectively eliminating bacteria and harmful substances in the soil, so as to achieve true green food production.
Because the roots of the plants are immersed in the nutrient solution, the sensor can easily realize the monitoring of plant growth and the nutrient components in the nutrient solution. Because the hydroponic method has a smaller root system, the plant grows more abundantly. It uses 70% less water than open agriculture. The biggest advantage is that it can be stacked anywhere. One of the best practices of urban agriculture. In a rapidly urbanizing world, hydroponic systems can be integrated into any space.
- Aerosol cultivation-plant cultivation without soil and little water
Aerosol cultivation is a new type of cultivation method. It is a soilless cultivation technique that uses a spray device to atomize the nutrient solution into small droplets and spray it directly onto the roots of plants to provide the water and nutrients needed for plant growth. Aerosol cultivation technology was first invented by NASA in the 1990s in order to find effective space plant cultivation techniques. Later this technique was called “Aeroponics”, which means “plants that grow in an air/fog environment with no soil and little water”.
The aerosol cultivation technology is mainly to hang the crops in a closed cultivation device (trough, box or bed), while the roots are exposed inside the cultivation device, and the nutrient solution is atomized by the spray device and sprayed onto the root surface to reduce the nitrate of the cultivated plants. content.
This technology doubles the yield of crops. It is an agricultural high-tech that does not use soil or substrate to cultivate plants. Because it replaces the soil environment with the artificially created crop root environment, it can effectively solve the water that is difficult to solve in traditional soil cultivation. The contradiction between air and nutrient supply keeps the roots of crops under the most suitable environmental conditions, thereby exerting the growth potential of crops, and greatly increasing plant growth and biomass.
In addition to accelerating the growth rate of plants and accelerating the growth and development of melons, fruits and vegetables in agricultural production, aerosol cultivation is the most water-saving and fertilizer-saving cultivation technique in vertical agricultural technology, which can reduce or avoid The use of chemical pesticides is unmatched by any other technology. As long as there is electricity, water and light, aerosol cultivation can be carried out to maximize the implementation of three-dimensional planting, and there is no dirt caused by any soil or other pollution. , Can completely achieve factory-style clean production.
- Fish and vegetable symbiosis-an ecosystem that integrates plant and fish farming
Aquaponics is a new type of compound farming system. The aquaponics system is very similar to the hydroponic system, but it is more optimized. It uses aquaculture and hydroponics, two originally completely different farming techniques, through clever ecological design, to achieve scientific synergy, so as to realize fish farming without changing water and no water quality concerns, and growing vegetables Ecological symbiosis effect of normal growth without fertilization.
In traditional aquaculture, with the accumulation of fish excrement, the ammonia nitrogen in the water body increases, and the toxicity gradually increases. In the fish-vegetable symbiosis system, the water from aquaculture is transported to the hydroponic cultivation system. The bacteria decompose the ammonia nitrogen in the water into nitrite and then the nitrifying bacteria decompose it into nitrate, which can be directly absorbed and used by plants as nutrients . The fish-vegetable symbiosis allows animals, plants, and microorganisms to achieve a harmonious ecological balance relationship. It is a sustainable and circular zero-emission low-carbon production model and an effective method to effectively solve the agricultural ecological crisis. The fish-vegetable symbiosis system is simplified In order to solve the production and economic problems, the production efficiency can be maximized.
- Lokal-a self-sufficient small household vegetable system
In September 2017, IKEA Innovation Lab Space10 put forward the idea of Lokal using a hydroponic agricultural system. By replacing the soil with nutrient solution and replacing sunlight with LED lights, people can plant and harvest crops indoors where there is no sunlight or soil. This innovation can really help people grow fresh food in their homes.
According to SPACE 10, the system can make plants grow three times faster than traditional planting methods and reduce water consumption by 90%. After using the sensor, the user can grasp the growth status of the crop at any time on the mobile phone. In the long run, IKEA hopes to use machine learning to collect and analyze data on people’s use of Lokal.
5.AeroFarms-Intelligent Vertical Agriculture Innovation
AeroFarms, a US vertical farm established in 2004, is a leader in the field of indoor agriculture. By using the latest technologies such as LED lighting, aerosol cultivation technology and climate control, it can grow vegetables in an environment without sunlight, soil and pesticides. This highly refined management can control the yield, shape, texture, color, flavor, and nutrients of plants. At present, the company can grow more than 250 vegetable varieties.
AeroFarms collects exactly the same seeds from the field and monitors the entire growth process of the crop to ensure that it can continuously supply all the nutrients needed for the growth and development of the crop. Compared with traditional farms, the crop yield per square foot of AeroFarms is 390 times higher.
Through sensors, the company can realize intelligent digital management of the entire process of crop growth, which can shorten the crop harvest period, improve food quality, and reduce the impact on the environment, making crop growth and harvest more controllable and efficient. The company has built multiple farms around the world, including the world’s largest vertical farm established in Newark, USA in 2016. The farm covers an area of 69,000 square feet, can produce 2 million pounds of vegetables and spices every year, and saves 95% of water compared to crops grown in ordinary fields. AeroFarms has raised a total of 138 million U.S. dollars.
6.Plantscapers-buildings that provide food for residents
Plantagon, a Swedish food technology company, proposed an innovative solution that directly allows office spaces and buildings to provide food for people. To this end, Plantagon purchased a patent for a vertical greenhouse invented by a farmer named Åke Olsson. The patent uses a rack-type transportation system to gradually move the planting box from the floor to the ceiling of the vertical greenhouse without artificial lighting.
Plantagon incorporates this patent into an office building, which will be named World Food Building. The goal is to produce at least 550 tons of vegetables per year, which is expected to provide daily needs for nearly 5,000 people. In order to keep costs low, the building will use highly automated technology to maintain and harvest. In addition, sunlight, temperature, nutrition, and air quality will all be monitored through autonomous systems.
7.VertiCrop-Urban Sustainable Agriculture Technology
VertiCrop, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, issued a patent for urban agricultural planting technology, which was named one of the world’s greatest inventions by Time Magazine in 2009.
This technology is based on hydroponics technology, which moves specially made suspension trays through a transportation system to provide plants with the best artificial light and natural light.
This design enables crops to grow healthily in a controlled and enclosed environment, without herbicides and pesticides, and the yield is 20 times that of ordinary farmland crops, and only 8% of the water required for soil cultivation.
- Modular farm-produce fresh plants anywhere in the world
The modular farm system is a major innovation of the Canadian company ModularFarms. It is a fully indoor vertical farming system that can produce healthy and fresh plants in any climate and anywhere.
The modular farm is a customized design based on the concept of urban farms, providing modules that can be used for various purposes. Users can customize the system and expand its functions according to agricultural needs.
The modular farm system focuses on farmers’ return on investment and plant health. The system is a perfect match for container farms and an experimental technology for vertical farming.
- Cubic agricultural system-the next generation of sustainable agricultural system
Dave Dinesen, CEO of Canadian company Cubic Farms, once pointed out in a TED speech that the company is the next generation of consistent, predictable and profitable farm product developers.
The cubic agricultural system developed by the company works through the conveyor rotation method, automatic nutrient delivery system and LED lighting to create the best growth environment for green plants. The water consumption is only 1/26 of that of traditional agriculture.
The company’s technology completely eliminates the risks of ordinary agriculture and achieves standardized output by controlling inputs. The products produced on the farm are very consistent in size, taste and color, and can also provide a longer shelf life and higher nutritional content. This also means stable and more predictable income.
10.ZipGrow-the vertical farming of modern farmers
The American company ZipGrow combines vertical agriculture with soilless cultivation. The working principle of its vertical planting tower is to use traditional hydroponics technology combined with a vertical gravity supply system to maximize the use of limited space and increase the benefit per unit area.
ZipGrow has basically completely changed the vertical agricultural industry, including system control, vertical plane growth technology and high-tech workflow design.
11.Bowery-the most technologically advanced commercial indoor farm in the world
BoweryOS, a technologically advanced agricultural system developed by the American indoor breeding company Bowery, can control the whole indoor growth process of crops without the use of pesticides. The yield is more than 30 times that of traditional planting methods, and more than 100 kinds of herbs and green leafy vegetables can be grown.
This technology will automatically generate ideal conditions for plants, collect growth data, and provide plants with precise light intensity and time, nutrition and pure water. The automatic irrigation system can measure and maintain the optimal level of water required for vegetable growth, saving 95% of water compared to traditional agriculture.
12.Skyfarm-wind vertical farm tower
British architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners proposed a concept called Skyfarm during the 2014 World Architecture Festival. The intention is to create a hyperboloid tower, using different farming techniques, including fish and vegetable symbiosis and traditional soil planting methods, suitable for producing crops in high-density urban areas or places with less land supply.
This multi-storey building uses bamboo to make a strong circular frame, while maximizing sunlight to the farm. The circulatory system supports the growth of crops and fish, where nutrients from the fish are transported to the crops, and the crops provide filtered water for the fish.
A large transparent water tank is designed at the bottom of the tower to breed fish such as sea bass, tilapia and barramundi. In the middle of the tower, plants are grown by hydroponics. Further up, plants grow through aerosol and soillessness, and the top of the tower is composed of water tanks and turbines. The tower aims to provide urban residents with crop products with short retention periods throughout the year. It is a typical case of sustainable agricultural solutions.
13.Sky Greens-the world’s first hydraulic vertical farm
Singapore company Sky Greens has developed a revolutionary vertical farming system, which is also the world’s first low-carbon water-driven farm. Vegetables are planted on shelves and can be rotated around the clock.
In this farm, the plants at the bottom absorb water, and the plants at the top get sunlight, and the whole process is continuously cyclic. Compared with traditional farming techniques, this method minimizes the consumption of water, land and energy.
In addition, compared with traditional farms, the system’s output can be increased by 10 times. Although the system is currently used to grow Asian vegetables, it can also be used to grow various fruits and other vegetables.
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