Question: how do you square a circle? Answer: go up! This isn’t an obscure riddle, but simply a practical solution to one of the biggest problems the world faces. We have regularly wondered how it will be possible to feed a global population that is forecast to grow some 40% between now and the end of the century (on UN projections) while conventional food supply is shrinking owing to global warming, diminishing arable land and potable water.
There is no silver bullet, in summary, but one potential solution (among many) could be vertical farming. We first discussed the topic in a theme piece we wrote on bringing more technology to the agriculture sector earlier this year. What has caught our eye since then has been the growing sums committed to the area. In the UK, online retailer Ocado has already begun to go vertical. In addition to VC firms, the likes of Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Eric Schmidt of Google have invested in the sector. Such is its vogue that the most recent edition of The Economist even featured a two-page spread on the topic.
A reminder of the investment case: Indoor urban farms can help reduce food transportation costs, increase yields and allow for year-round production of certain crops. Automated vertical farms can grow crops at twice the speed of conventional farms while using 40% less power, creating 80% less food waste and using 99% less water than outdoor fields (per Futurism, a consultancy). Even if sophisticated LED lighting represents a notable cost, this should come down as ventures grow in scale and technology matures.
Ventures have sprung up around the world including in Japan, Singapore, the UK and the US. AeroFarms in New Jersey has been operating since 2004 and claims to be the world’s largest vertical farm, a 70,000 square foot compound producing 2m pounds of food annually. Aero says its yields are over 300 times those of conventional farms. Your next bowl of salad may be coming to you from remarkably nearby – and you can also feel good about it!
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