Vertical Farming Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Vertical Farming?
- What are the advantages of this technique?
- What are the drawbacks?
- How big is the industry?
- What is the rationale for vertical farming in Wales?
- What is Tech Tyfu?
- How do I get one of the kits?
- How long will I be able to use one of these kits?
- How much space is needed for a kit?
- Are they noisy?
- What are the time commitments of using one?
- How often will I have to change the water/replace nutrients?
- How do I carry on with vertical farming after I’ve had my turn with a kit?
What is vertical farming?
Vertical farming is a hydroponics method of growing food in a controlled, indoor environment. Plants are grown in modules or trays which are stacked on top of each other and illuminated with artificial light. Rather than soil, vertical farms feed their crops with a reservoir of nutrient-rich solution which is pumped to the plant crop.
What are the advantages of this technique?
There are many! Growing food on vertical farms can reduce water use requirements by up to 90%, as well as offer improved nutrient use efficiency in comparison to conventional farming. As soil is not used, pesticides are not usually necessary. This means that vertical farming may be able to help reduce the environmental impact food production, as well as improving crop yield and consistency by reducing the influence of environmental stressors on food production. As such stressors are likely to increase with climate change (heightened flood risk and drought risk), controlled environment agriculture may therefore help to safeguard food production.
What are the drawbacks?
There are a number of issues with vertical farming, in principle being the high energy cost of operating the pumps and artificial lighting, which are usually fairly energy intensive. Whilst in some contexts, growers may be able to manage without supplementing the light levels, arrays of vertical farms will usually need some form of lighting, as very little sunlight from overhead will be able to reach the crop leaves. The environmental cost of the parts and assembling the apparatus must also be considered, and in many scenarios vertical farming will not be economical. However, as with all agri-tech, if the method is used in the right places to grow the right crops, the gains may offset the losses. It is an objective of the Tech Tyfu project to explore where vertical farming may be particularly valuable, and what forces will dictate cost effectiveness.
How big is the industry?
-Vertical farming is by no means a niche, eccentric fad, the current world market was valued £1.72bn in 2018 and is predicted to rise to £9.84bn by 2026, set to outstrip other major markets in agri-tech (such as biostimulants).
What is the rationale for vertical farming in Wales?
The UK imports almost half of its food, and our food supply chains are vulnerable to economic, political and environmental stress. Vertical farming may play a vital role in helping to position agriculture more resilient to climate change and supply chain disruption. While often seen as an urban technique, there may exist considerable potential for vertical farming to be used in more rural sectors such as North Wales. In this area, we have a considerable number of high end restaurants associated with the tourism industry, and we have also have many farmers who are looking to diversify their food production approaches. Many farmers have seen potential to retrofit agricultural buildings with vertical farms, and in Wales, farmers are highly adept at both producing and marketing food.
What is Tech Tyfu?
Tech Tyfu is a vertical farming pilot scheme in North Wales funded by the RDP and delivered through Menter Mon. Five vertical farms (2 x NFT, 3 x Flood and drain) have been purchased, and applications to use one of these units are invited from growers wishing to explore this technology. The systems are designed to grow microgreens and speciality leaves, and are to be offered for up to a year to growers free of charge. The objective is to support growers as they gain understanding and experience in vertical farming, and helping to bypass the large up front costs of purchasing such a unit before being familiar with vertical farming growing methods. By removing this barrier to vertical farming, we hope to encourage innovation, develop a skills cluster and collaborative routes to market for vertically farmed produce.
How do I get one of the kits?
An open call for growers will be advertised at some point in February. If you are interested, please email email@example.com for more information.
How long will I be able to use one of these kits?
Up to a year/one growing season will be offered, and we will encourage growers to develop the infrastructure for continuing with vertical farming afterwards.
How much space is needed for a kit?
Dimensions are 2.4 m in height, 1.5 m in length and 1 m in width for both NFT and F&D units.
Are they noisy?
The units are really quiet. In the F+D units, flood cycles mean that the unit is silent for most of the time. NFT units will have a pump in constant operation.
What are the time commitments of using one?
This depends on the crop. In an example lettuce crop on an NFT system, the seed will be placed into a plug, followed by a 14 day propagation period, and then 35 days until harvest. Very little daily input will usually be necessary, normally nothing more than a quick check to ensure the system is in good working order. The harvesting and cleaning the unit at the end of the process will usually take a couple of hours.
How often will I have to change the water/replace nutrients?
Again, this depends on the crop and their nutrient requirements, as well as how hot the growing season is. While topping up the nutrient reservoir is possible, we have found from our experience that it is more prudent to replace water every 10 days or so to maintain best hygiene and save time at the cleaning stage.
How do I carry on with vertical farming after I’ve had my turn with a kit?
We are really keen to encourage this, and ultimately this is the point of us recruiting as growers. We have established a growers group which operates as a skills cluster and a collaboration between growers. Advice, ongoing training and growers workshops are being run to continually support people involved in the project.