Is indoor farming key to solving the food production problem?

By 2050, it is expected that there will be over 9.7 billion people on the planet. This is a lot of foot food to feed daily, and Forbes has reported that food production needs to increase by 70% over the next 30 years to meet this demand. However, this is bad news for the environment. Traditional agricultural practices are known to be energy and resource intensive and therefore unsustainable. In fact, food accounts for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

From start to finish, the food production process is unsustainable. Livestock farming causes the destruction of forest ecosystems, releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increases the planet’s temperature. In addition, livestock manure and nitrogen-based manure can contaminate groundwater, streams, estuaries and oceans, while traditional agriculture also requires plenty of land and water, which are not infinite resources.

The collective view is that the agricultural industry needs to make appropriate changes to use less water and chemicals, reduce its contribution to climate change and produce more reliable yields. Could indoor farming be a solution?

What is indoor farming?

Also known as vertical farming is indoor farming, where farmers grow crops in a controlled environment. This can be inside buildings, shipping containers, old warehouses or even in tunnels. Crops tend to be arranged in a stacked format, which means that farmers can grow more in a smaller area. The exercise requires a variety of equipment, including items such as electrical conductivity meters (EC meters) to determine water quality and nutrients, photosynthetic active radiation meters (PAR meters) for measuring light intensity and thermometers.

The indoor agricultural sector was 1.72 billion. Pounds worth in 2018, and experts predict it will reach 9.84 billion. Pound in 2026. As more and more people flock to cities, it also means that food does not have to be transported that far, which helps reduce harmful emissions, while farmers can grow fresh, pesticide-free foods all year round.

Hydroponic indoor agriculture

Most methods of indoor farming use a combination of hydroponics (replacing soil with nutrient-rich water) and artificial lighting, e.g. LED light, rather than utilizing natural sunlight. The farmer is responsible for maintaining optimal nutrient content in the liquid solution to ensure that plants thrive and to great success plants grow 30-50% faster in hydroponic farms than soil-based ones. Soil-free growth media are more easily scaled, good for small spaces and use water more efficiently.

Aeroponic indoor farming

Another practice is aeroponics, which also does not need soil. Seeds are ‘planted’ in pieces of foam stuffed into small pots, which are then exposed to light at one end and nutrient dew at the other, giving plants more oxygen and resulting in healthier roots and increased growth rates. Aeroponics also uses up to 95% less water than outdoor farming, no pesticides or fertilizers and has a smaller carbon footprint.

Can indoor agriculture really solve the food production problem?

Benefits of indoor farming

· Fewer resources spent

Indoor agriculture uses fewer resources such as soil and water, eliminates chemical-based fertilizers and reduces transportation miles, as farms are located closer to local suppliers.

· Environmentally friendly

It is a more environmentally friendly alternative as there is no need for fuel for agricultural machinery or equipment. The process also uses less soil and water, fewer pesticides or toxic chemicals and creates less pollution.

· Less food waste

Food waste is a major problem with traditional farming methods with almost a third of the products being wasted globally. Recycling is a way to help reduce the negative impact. As noted by Bywaters, which offers food recycling services: “Food waste recycling reduces how much it gets to landfill, where food cannot be naturally degraded, and releases harmful greenhouse gases into the air.” However, indoor farming is another option as it reduces the likelihood of food being thrown away. This is because most indoor farms supply products to the local area, which means that goods are grown closer to consumption and therefore remain fresher and last longer.

· Better use of space

Indoor agriculture encourages better utilization of space, is suitable for both small and large operations and can be successful in any climate or place. The typical stacking system used for indoor farming means that farmers can expand upwards and achieve higher productivity on a smaller land area.

· More reliable yield

This farming method provides a reliable yield all year round, enabling constant production and increased food volume without compromising on taste or quality. This is because indoor cultivation allows the farmer to control all aspects such as temperature, humidity and air flow rates, while outdoor methods mean that it fights weather elements where there is a risk that crops may be destroyed.

The disadvantages of indoor farming

· High start-up costs

While indoor farming is receiving praise, there are concerns about the price of setting it up. The initial start-up costs are high compared to current processes, as urban spaces are typically more expensive than agricultural land.

· Energy consumption

Another disadvantage is the energy consumption. Indoor farming uses artificial lighting that consumes lots of power and increases operating costs.

· Limited plants

Indoor agriculture is also only suitable for certain types of plants, e.g. Leafy vegetables. Crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans and rice are unlikely to be good candidates for indoor farming due to their high energy and space requirements.

Do the locals succeed?

indoor agriculture

Many companies around the world have successfully managed to pull off indoor farming. For example, a farm owned by Square Roots produces the same amount of food as a two- or three-acre family farm that uses only 340 square feet for production. In the aforementioned Forbes report, CEO Tobias Peggs said: “Our indoor farms are living biosystems that are constantly adapting to maintain optimal climates for growing specific crops. This is expected to help us adapt to a warming planet and can slow down climate change. We are then able to understand how climate change can affect yield taste and texture. “Meanwhile, there is an underground vegetable farm in London, UK, located in an old bomb shelter during World War II under the city. It produces some of the freshest micro vegetables, including watercress, rocket and Thai basil, and runs on 100% renewable energy, uses recycled water and is pesticide free.

One last note

Now we’ve researched how indoor farming works, its benefits and its shortcomings, and while it may not be entirely environmentally friendly yet, it’s definitely on its way. In the coming years, the agricultural industry may experience a complete overhaul to ensure that practices are sustainable. As one Scottish farmer puts it: “Our industry is one that can change and will change to meet public ambitions with a positive, forward-thinking mindset.”

Article submitted by Community Writer


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