How do lights make Vertical-Indoor Farms possible?Friday 29 April 2022
Indoor vertical farms are a remarkable development in agriculture, which make year-round farming within urban landscapes possible. These innovative production centres are entirely dependent on carefully calibrated light-spectrums, which allow farmers to grow their plants year-round.
But what is a vertical farm exactly?
A vertical farm is a farm which seeks to grow crops in vertically stacked layers, often within highly controlled environments. This is usually a repurposed warehouse within a built-up, highly urbanised locale. They are closed systems which complete the entire growth cycle inside the curated environment, usually placed in a busy city. These crops are then retailed in local stores and restaurants year-round.
What is the advantage of a vertical farm?
In societies with highly urbanised populations, a vertical farm network can bring essential food production right into the heart of a city. Once this output is known and controlled, you can reduce reliance on imports, reducing traffic and the carbon footprint of delivery and its associated costs. But there are also huge savings to be made on the resources used for farming.
According to Bowery Farming, a New York-based vertical farming company, you can save 95% of the water and 95% of the fertiliser that would otherwise be required in traditional arable farming. This is because it is far easier to keep water enclosed in a vertical system, where you can account for every millilitre. In a world which currently suffers a fertiliser and water shortage, this is very important.
In addition, there is no requirement for fungicide or pesticide in a vertical farm, because you can insulate the environment from these threats. Finally, because you are growing crops upwards instead of outwards, you can save a huge amount on real-estate and land. According to Crate to Plate, you can grow the same amount of food in a 40-foot storage container as you would be able to across an acre of farmland.
Where does lighting technology come into this?
As you may have realised, the interiors of warehouses don’t tend to get much sunlight. So artificial light is necessary to allow plants to photosynthesise.
The key component to the whole operation is a carefully calibrated spectrum of light which allows plants to grow year-round, irrespective of seasons. You can thus engineer your vertical farm in a series of growth cycles, allowing an entire building and workforce to churn out predictable quantities of crops year-round.
The light spectrum is developed with curated improvements to LED technology, which make artificial light more reliable, more powerful and significantly cheaper than it has been in the past, while also fulfilling the wavelength-segments within the light-spectrum which plants require to grow. Depending on the crop you’re growing, you may need different spreads of light in your system. Some crops benefit from a higher red-spectrum, some need more blue light and others need to be kept under infrared conditions. All of these systems can be curated in these enclosed environments, year-round. There’s no such thing as a bad harvest when you don’t have to worry about the weather!
How bright is the future of vertical farms?
Vertical farms may be in their infancy, but their operators are ambitious, and they certainly appear to solve some problems. The next ten years will be crucial. Some young vertical farms are now opening in London, and as they start to become a part of the city’s infrastructure, we will have to see how they fare. More and more investors are flocking to this agricultural technology, and soon we may have to decide whether every city in the world will benefit.
Whatever happens, the fact that you can grow plants from the seed to the supermarket with an LED light is astounding.
Image: Lianoland Wimons, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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