• Vertical Farming
  • Agriculture
  • IoT
  • Climate Change
  • Flooding

Vertical Farming Provides Food Supply Solutions for Cities in the Climate Change Era

Nov 18, 2021

Guidehouse Insights Sustainability

Imagine walking into a shop in a building and being greeted by just-picked vegetables and fruits. Instead of coming from a traditional farm, this produce was grown in a vertical farm in the building. No plastic packaging, no best-before date—just like the old days but with the convenience and efficiency of modern technology. 

This kind of picture is no longer reserved for a scene in a sci-fi film or book. Carlo Ratti Associati announced plans to build an office tower with a vertical hydroponic farm in its façade for the central business district in Shenzhen, China. The vertical hydroponic farm will produce an estimated 270,000 kg of food per year, which can feed roughly 40,000 people (0.3% of Shenzhen’s total population). Similar buildings with mixed office space and urban vertical farms are under construction in Milan, Italy (VITAE) and Singapore (CapitaSpring). 

What Is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is a subgroup of controlled-environment agriculture (CEA). Greenhouses are traditional examples of CEA. Three growing methods are used within vertical farms: hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. The first two methods both operate with plant roots submerged in a nutrient-rich liquid solution. The difference derives from the source of the nutrients. In hydroponic farming, nutrients are added to the water; in aquaponic farming, nutrients come from the wastewater produced by aquatic organisms such as fish. The aeroponic method works with plants suspended in the air and nutrients delivered through spray. Lighting, services and infrastructure, controls, and water delivery and recovery systems are essential technologies to vertical farming. By incorporating Internet of Things controls, the environment for crops can be improved to facilitate the healthiest and fastest-growing plants. 

Climate Change Is a Driver for Vertical Farming

With modern technology, increased efficiency can be achieved through micro-control in vertical farms. Although vertical farms might seem like delicate systems that require more energy, especially electricity, they are actually a cost-efficient way to go forward.

First, integrating green plants into building designs benefits occupants. It can reduce energy consumption by adjusting temperature, especially for cooling. In addition, a natural green environment helps improve mental health.

Second, more extreme weather has been disturbing traditional farming activities globally. Over the past few years, heat waves and drought caused an estimated 20%-50% of crop yield losses. In 2019, flooding in the American Midwest reduced corn planting by 42% and soy bean planting by 71%. Compared to crop loss due to climate change, vertical farming’s controlled environment is more reliable.

Finally, decentralized urban vertical farming can ease supply chain pressures. In the last 2 years, the global supply chain has experienced severe disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One can argue that the pandemic is a rare case, but the challenges from extreme weather such as flooding are going to increase the risk of supply chain disruption. According to a report by First Street Foundation, roughly 23% of US roadways are at risk of becoming impassable due to flooding. Reduced shipping emissions and plastic packaging are two other benefits from localized vertical farming systems.

Guidehouse Insights anticipates that the vertical farming market will grow nearly 25% over the next decade from $3.9 million in 2021 to $28.4 million in 2030. Still, high startup costs, the pandemic, investor skepticism, and farming entrepreneurs’ limited knowledge hinder growth in this new market. For more about the emerging vertical farming market, see Guidehouse Insights' report Vertical Farming.