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VERTICAL FARMING THEFUTUREOF AGRICULTURE? Author: Katherine Pretorius Vertical indoor farming, also known as ''smart farms' is a form of contemporary farming that makes the most of indoor farming practices by utilising agricultural technology under environmental control. The purpose is to raise crop yields in a constrained or tiny area. Advanced and efficient vertical farming methods are being harnessed to help feed commuters with fresh produce. How will vertical farming change agriculture?
Instead of growing fruit and vegetables on big farms and then transporting it over long distances in trucks and planes, vertical farming can supply local produce from neighbourhood buildings. This means less fuel is used and the food is fresher.
Vertical farms also tend to produce more than conventional farms. Nordic Harvest says plants can be harvested 15 times a year; in a traditional field, harvesting is twice a year.
By precisely controlling the growing environment, products can last for 13 to 14 days, against three to four days for the equivalent products from conventional agriculture, according to The Choice.
What are the benefits of vertical farming?
Vertical farming naturally results in a very high production output per unit area, significantly saving land and water resources.
Producing food in urban environments means being closer to consumers and decreasing transportation from farmgate to dinnerplate, which helps reduce the carbon footprint. Being able to produce food in land-scarce countries through such means will allow a degree of food insecurity to be addressed, but not without a cost. Unfortunately, indoor and vertical farming is costly, resulting in a higher unit production cost than land-based farming, and someone has to pay for it. That someone is either the taxpayer, through government grants and subsidies, or consumers paying higher food prices. The irony is that food insecurity arising from a one-off pandemic is felt when there is no shortage of food in affluent urban areas and countries otherwise, such as Singapore and the oil-rich Middle East.
An additional benefit is production and crop yield are not subject to weather conditions in such a controlled production environment. This means output is a lot more predictable and consistent.
For what is being produced now, mainly leafy greens, fewer pesticides can be used, which addresses, to some degree, consumer concerns about chemically tainted food or food safety. In reality, fewer pesticides can be used, but the produce is not "pesticide-free", as almost all such indoor farming operations claim. Artificial intelligence, such as automation and blockchain technologies in vertical farming, allows for high traceability in a controlled environment. This has become essential when supplying to consuming countries and more sophisticated retail outlets, specifically with food security and consumer awareness moving to the forefront. Technology sector jobs are more in demand for younger people, as they are better paid and offer more growth opportunities. This move to a different work has benefited the tech sector in research and technological experimentation. Are smart farms better than regular farms?
Smart farms are less labour-intensive and use technology to increase yields and mitigate weather fluctuations. Tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, and broccoli are excellent examples of vertically grown vegetables.
However, it is not suitable for all types of plants. Due to growth conditions and space constraints, only a few food crops can be grown vertically.
But, by effectively using land and water, vertical farming can assist crops in overcoming this imminent difficulty. Why isn't vertical farming already a global solution?
Cost is a big hurdle for vertical farming. Sun and rain are free, and Powering LED lights, software and sophisticated growing systems aren't.
While some facilities run on electricity from wind turbines, vertical farms running on fossil fuels may be adding to the problem of climate change rather than making it better, says Free Think.
Buying urban real estate to build a vertical farm can also be expensive. In Australia, for example, an average square metre of city centre land in Melbourne is almost $3,500, according to Duke University in the U.S. Currently, the country with the highest number of vertical farms is the USA. In Asia, the leading countries in the industry are Japan, China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. In Europe, vertical farms can be found among others in Germany, France, the U.K., and the Netherlands. That said, the global vertical farming market is steadily growing, says Statista, and is expected to leap from $5.5 billion in 2020 to around $20bn by 2025.