27 February 2012

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Vertical Farms - The Solutions To Farming In The Future?

Dickson Despommier has been trying to change the world’s mind about farming for over a decade. This Columbia University professor insists that planting upwards is the way to feed the world in the future. While Despommier’s vertical farms were once seen as a novelty, since 2007 they’ve been attracting both attention from both the press and investors. The reasoning is simple: the population of this planet will surge to nine billion people, and feeding them will require at least double the food production available now.

The problem is, arable land for food production is already at its limit. That’s where Despommier’s vertical farming ideas can fill the void. According to the professor, the majority of human illness comes from a lack of sanitisation, especially in areas where human feces is used for fertilization of crops that are then taken to market. Soil nematodes cause more loss of life than AIDS, TB and Malaria, and vertical farming can eliminate that.

Hydroponic farming is one of the things people have been doing to adjust to the loss of arable land for agriculture. Florida and California, for example, are two of the largest hydroponics users in the U.S, yet they have great topsoil and plenty of sunshine. But people have realized, the weather changes – with hydroponics, there’s no more worries for lack of sun or land. And that’s what led to the process of vertical farming. Looking around the world, you can see that there are places where vertical farming would be natural. For example, much of Australia is covered with desert, with plenty of sun and little rain. Solar collectors set up in there could be used to funnel energy to the coastal areas and supply vertical farms installed there.

Agriculture has always been horizontal, stretched out along the surface of the earth, and the idea of growing vertically can seem like a crazy dream. But with the disappearance of the topsoil and of arable lands, I don’t think it’s crazy at all. In fact, crazy would be to see the problems we have now and continue to resist change. It’s a matter of changing now, or waiting until we’ve got no choice. In California, it’s already assumed that the Imperial Valley will fail in another 25 to 30 years. The state food advisory board is outsourcing their crop production overseas – to Chile, Cambodia, Argentina and others. But the fact is, these countries aren’t going to be able to keep up with the production necessary.

People predict that in 10 years, vertical farming will be the norm around the world. Some people are opposed to the idea of “factory farming” and the tall buildings that will be holding the farms, but actually it wouldn’t be bad to be next to one – as they could be beautiful glass buildings. And another real advantage in the future will be when you look back at today’s farms and see that we’ve been able to let trees and wildlife fill them back in, creating fresher air and cleaner water. We can pay today’s farmer’s to be carbon farmers. As the trees grow to fill in the empty spaces, they will consume more and more carbon from the atmosphere. The Earth would be in much better shape if we let the American Midwest return to its original state. Rough calculations show that by letting Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa regrow, we could cut as much as 4% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. And the plan is economically sound as well - a 30-storey farm would cost about $500 million to build and would feed 50,000 people; at $6000 a year each, that’s a gross income of $300 million annually. You could pay investors back easily in ten to fifteen years.

Concept farm image courtesy of Dowser.org

About today's Guest Writer:
Ant is a great exponent of sustainable, eco friendly and vertical farming methods beginning to be used today. Working for RJ Herbert, specialists in vegetable processing equipment and recycling equipment, he hopes to be able to directly influence this and help farming in the UK become more sustainable.