The global population is constantly growing. Therefore the food production should scale up too, but there is a shortage of land for traditional farming. Moreover, climate change makes future harvest unpredictable. That’s why – initially in Japan, but slowly all over the world – vertical farms are popping up. What are the advantages? How does the industry ensure quality? And what are the biggest challenges that vertical farmers are confronted with? Thea-Isabella Otto from VertiFarm shares her expertise with us in this episode of Quality Leaders.
WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE?
Even though vertical farming was introduced in the eighties, it is still considered an infant industry
In Europe and North America, the first experiments with vertical farming started in the late eighties. Back then, it was mostly a matter of proving that it’s possible to grow a plant indoors. “We have moved past the first stage, thanks to some fantastic improvements in technology. We have proven that vertical farms can produce more on a smaller footprint. The next step is: standardisation”, says Thea-Isabella Otto. We are still very far from that, however. Vertical farming in Europe and North America is rarely considered agriculture. Instead, politicians categorise it as ‘innovation and technology’. But vertical farmers are providing actual food for actual people, so they need to be recognised as a part of the food supply chain. “And therefore they should receive subsidies”, adds Otto.
Vertical farming ensures more stable food prices
Food prices are going through the roof nowadays. That is because conventional produce is heavily impacted by extreme weather changes and high energy prices. Vertical farmers on the other hand, can provide more stable prices because they turned their weakness into an opportunity, by making contracts with their energy providers. “If you know what your inputs are and you know that one of the highest costs are the energy prices, then it only makes sense to make long term contracts. That results in a stable price in the end”, Otto explains.
AI could take a lot of pressure off farmers
Vertical farmers now have to put in a lot of effort to take care of their growing plants: every day they have to walk past massive greenhouses to detect pests or diseases. That could be made a lot easier with the help of artificial intelligence. “Computer vision could detect these problems before the human eye would even see it”, says Otto. Her dream scenario is that the knowledge of today’s field experts, which is a result of decades of growing plants, would be implemented into a giant AI database. “That way, vertical farming could produce more food with less people and less effort. And the quality of the food would be very consistent”, she concludes.