Hey—you’re back! Let’s have some more fun, dive into the water and nutrient rich basin of Vertical Farming and Controlled Environment Agriculture “CEA”, and discuss in more depth the methods involved—hope you brought your snorkel and wetsuit! You read last week’s blog to get a broad overview of Vertical Farming and CEA, right? Of course you did—you were probably dreaming about visiting a venture capitalist to get your own farm off the ground, weren’t you? Just in case you missed it though, Check Out Vertical Farming 101 Here!
Ok, well first off, a little bit of housekeeping. Vertical Farming 102 will consist of a 5-part mini-series over the next couple weeks. Don’t worry, we won’t intrude on your Thanksgiving holiday—that’s to be spent with your loved ones, not reading blogs about farming. With that, let’s get started on the nuts and bolts of the different methods of Vertical Farming and CEA, the benefits of using such methods, as well as some potential risk to the environment, without further ado we’ll start our dive in the shallow end by discussing CEA, shall we?
Controlled Environment Agriculture
In order to truly understand Vertical Farming or Greenhouse Farming, we truly need to have a deeper understanding of the whole basis of CEA. Just as Elon Musk reformed Tesla to take a technology-based approach to electric vehicle production, CEA too, imparts a technology-based approach to farming. Through these and other advanced farming techniques, we allow ourselves the ability to adapt to the everchanging demands of the population who require a more in-depth knowledge of their food and what they’re putting in their bodies.
The benefits of this type of farming are widespread, spanning from the agricultural industry producing the crops, to the consumer ultimately putting them on the table for themselves and family.
Benefits to Agricultural Industry
Efficiency and labor: Whereas traditional farming relies primarily on the labor force and Migrant and Seasonal workers, much of the hands-on work for CEA can be automated, leading to increased efficiency and decreased labor costs to the farmer. Additionally, as CEA farms can be operated in areas and during seasons traditional farms could not, it allows them to operate in areas closer to the communities they serve. Without the long-range shipping requirements, this helps eliminate certain risks, such as crop damage, emissions-related environmental effects, and mitigates costs for the farmer to get the crops to the market.
Smaller footprint: Traditional farms require expansive areas to cultivate the crops throughout the season. CEA can essentially be done anywhere a building can be constructed. Several examples of this could be a barn on your land, the unfinished basement of your house, a spare room you don’t use, as long as you have the ability to control the inputs the crops are getting in the environment, you can essentially make use of anywhere to grow a CEA operation.
High yield and more harvests: Fewer natural risks to the crops and less human-error during the growing and harvesting cycle allows for increased yields on crops and additional harvests throughout the course of the year. The United Nations estimates about 1/3 of all food is lost to waste, automation decreases that, and the ability to harvest year-round to meet demand allows more of the population to be fed higher quality, healthier food, resulting in increased profits to the farmers in operation.
Fewer chemicals and food-borne pathogens: Fewer pests, means decreased need for pesticides. People, more and more are requiring organic crops with fewer or no chemicals imparted in them, as long-term exposure to certain items spark more lawsuits. When the consumer requires more natural, holistic approaches to their food, wouldn’t it be beneficial to the farmer to adapt to the growing demand?
Predictability: Elimination of many natural disasters allows the farmer the ability to plan what their crop production will end up being for the year. Whereas with, say, traditional grain farming, futures contracts are employed to hedge price risk throughout the season to better plan annual revenue, there is less of a need using CEA grown crops.
Benefits for the consumer
Sustainability: Increasingly, society demands that we stop depleting Earth of its resources and view our effects through a longer-view lens. CEA methods are considered more sustainable when compared to other, more traditional methods. This means that when we are done reading blogs for eternity, there will still be food available for the generations to come.
Fresh crops year-round: Traditional farming in the Midwest relies on a growing season, think corn, soybeans, wheat, melons, et cetera. Controlling the environment using more technological methods, such as CEA, farmers are given the ability to harvest crops year-round to meet consumers’ demand for fresh produce and it will be grown locally. This means, your produce won’t be coming from California, if you live in Ohio during February, it will be coming from, perhaps, one town over!
Higher quality: Most consumers would agree that food crops produced though methods reducing the need for pesticides or other additional supplements results in a higher quality finished product. Crops grown in a controlled environment allow for a more nutritious, better tasting final product for the end consumer.
Less resource-intensive: We know that crops won’t grow without water. However, CEA uses almost 95% less water than traditional methods of farming, since waste is minimized. While many vertical farms take this a step further and use rainwater as much as possible, it hasn’t become the majority as yet. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, CEA takes a technological approach to farming, we impart elements of precision agriculture into this method, ensuring crops are only getting the amount of water they need to facilitate growth, no more, no less, thus eliminating waste.
Fewer chemicals: Fewer pests in the controlled environment means less reliance on pesticides to manage them. We now know consumers are increasingly demanding of crop producers to provide organic pesticide- and herbicide-free produce, and they are willing to pay a premium for this service. While traditional farming methods do allow for Organic Certifications, it is far easier to accomplish when using CEA techniques.
When CEA techniques are used, benefits are provided both for demanding consumers, as well as the farmers producing the crops as well. Now that we’ve developed our understanding of the benefits this method of farming provides, let’s pause for the day and continue our conversation on Wednesday, when we’ll be discussing Hydroponic farming. In the meantime, if you’re enjoying reading this or if you have any comments, let me know below.