I’m taking a break from my Next Gen Democracy series this week to talk about the future of the food chain, in particular the role vertical farming has to play in that future.
My hometown, Lydney in Gloucestershire, is about to be home to the world’s largest vertical farm. The multi-million pound ‘Garden of England’, backed by Ocado, will be 70 tennis courts in size and supply more than 1,000 tonnes of fresh produce to thousands of supermarkets across the UK.
Since the pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine and subsequent cost-of-living crisis, the UK becoming energy independent is at the forefront of the conversation. Despite food being a more essential part of basic survival, our public conversation about the security of our food chain isn’t quite so developed.
The increasing frequency of droughts and floods is making traditional agriculture across the world more unstable, and land around the globe is increasingly over farmed resulting is soil degradation and erosion.
The long-distance import and export of produce is not only harmful for the environment, its stability and affordability is increasingly worrisome. The Suez Canal blockage left food to rot and revealed how one error could have huge consequences for the world. The increase in fuel prices is now making transport costs rocket too.
We need to stop relying on the world for necessities. We need to reduce the impacts on the climate of our food chain. We need to allow land to recover and ecosystems to repair themselves. We need food stability and self-sufficiency. It’s essential during calmer times, its vital during a crisis.
Vertical farming represents the path to future self-sufficiency and food chain stability.
Stability: reliable and more efficient crop production and consistent crop quality
These farms provide reliable year-round crop production, regardless of the weather. Farmers can have certainty about consistent yields. You don’t have to sacrifice the foods you love depending on the season, everything could be in season anywhere at any time. The managed environment is proven to improve harvest times and even improve flavour and shelf-life.
Not only is growing crops faster and more consistent, vertical farms are also a more productive use of land. One acre of vertical farm could increase the yield by over ten times. You can always expand upwards.
Sustainability: using less resources and freeing land back to nature
The processes used in vertical farming only uses about 10% of the water of traditional agriculture, with the water that is used being cleaned and reused which reduces both waste and cost.
Dramatically reducing the farming equipment that runs on fossil fuels is also hugely beneficial, as is eliminating so much of the long-distance transport associated with our current supply-chains. Produce can be grown closer to home, even in the centre of our largest cities: reducing emissions, logistics costs and the need for refrigerated storage whilst increasing the freshness of the food on your plate.
Through reducing land use, more of our greenspace is freed up for the recovery of our natural environment and recreation. The reduction in chemicals and the elimination of the need for pesticides also dramatically reduces the pollution of soil and watercourses.
Despite needing a lot of power to operate, vertical farms can be fitted with technology that captures and recycles excess energy — alongside moving ungodly solar-power fields and placing them on rooftops.
Safety: reducing the risks associated with farming
Farming machinery and the use of chemicals has increasingly presented health and safety risks to people who work in the industry, the automated growing systems and reduction in heavy machinery presents significantly lower risks of injury to the workforce.
Stability, sustainability and safety are the words that should be at the forefront of our conversation on the future of food. Vertical farming’s benefits are in abundance, its drawbacks are few and decrease with every step forward that the technology takes.
If we are serious are self-sufficiency in all of the necessities required to keep our country functioning, vertical farming is one of the main tools available to create a food chain fit for the future.
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