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Is Vertical Farming Really the Future of Agriculture? (eater.com)
178 points by prostoalex 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 278 comments



There's a lot of misunderstanding of agriculture in this thread.

1) No, land is not expensive. In agricultural areas, land is quite cheap. Organizing shelves of crops vertically solves for a problem that isn't actually a problem.

2) The sun is free and electricity isn't cheap. Putting plants indoors and then buying electricity to create light is going to be expensive compared to using the free sun. (The absurdity of putting solar panels on a roof to make electricity to beam LEDs on plants, losing 90% of the energy along the way, shouldn't be lost on anyone.)

3) Shipping is cheap. It may make us feel good that a salad's greens were created on a roof-top in Brooklyn, but using some of the most expensive real-estate on Earth to save a few cents on shipping is beyond economically irrational.

I actually love the idea of hydroponics for another reason entirely: it saves a ton of water. Water is a real problem worth solving, particularly in the dry west. Focus on this and forget about all of these other non-benefits.


In a word no. I spent twenty years as a fertilizer agronomist and I'm very familiar with the costs of producing a crop.

The numbers simply do not work. Even when they tried in Detroit and got buildings for five cents on the dollar they couldn't make it work.

The investors funding these enterprises do not understand agricultural economics. I keep investigating these stories looking for some kind of 'breakthrough tech' that would dramatically reduce costs or increase yields. I've been tracking these vertical greenhouses for fifteen years, they open and a couple of years later they're gone.

I think what could change things for produce is solar cells and electric trucks. It would isolate producers transportation costs from oil prices and lower the cost of getting produce to the cities. I know technology is quickly improving in both battery technology and solar cells.


The "breakthrough tech" I'm NOT seeing:

There's all the excitement over electric cars and electrical trucks, and I, for one, can't wait to get an electrically powered car I don't have to drive. But the thing I'm not seeing is electrically powered farm machinery. I think people underestimate just how hard that problem is. These machines, when they're working at peak times of the year (planting time, harvest) are required to work 24 hours a day for weeks on end. There's no time to stop for a recharge, and something like a harvester or large tractor pulling ploughs or a planter uses a /hell/ of a lot of power. Even assuming some sort of swap-out battery system, I'd guess that each machine would need something on the order of three to five battery packs in order to keep up with the work demand. And at the busy times of year even a moderately sized farm will have at least three to five machines working at the same time.

Is anyone aware of companies developing real (not prototype/PoC) large-scale farm machinery?


Is this really that important though? I haven't numbers that indicate that farming machinery is such a big share of the oil consumption.

My thoughts on these things is, if we can cut 90% of gasoline/diesel use with BEVs and PHEVs, then the last 10% could feasibly be fueld by renewable hydrocarbons. The development after that is up to the markets.. probably pure BEV will be preferred over time as batteries get better and we develop new solutions.

Why would you need three to five packs? A pack can generally charge as fast as it can discharge.. you should only need two if you have a fast charging system.

The problem is if the machines is only used part of the year. For the cost of a battery pack to make sense, it should be used as much as possible. If it's idle for large parts of the year and it can't be used for anything else, it'll be hard to justify the cost. Maybe they can double as grid storage?


Farm machinery is not a huge part of agricultural energy use, and agriculture is not a huge contributor overall consumption, but energy's share in food production costs are high.

Petroleum use by industry sector: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.php?page=us_energy...

How energy is used in agriculture (Sweden): http://www.serina-ahlgren.com/p/research_26.html

How agriculture energy use contributes to the atmosphere: https://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/climate-and-...

(I am not an expert in this field.)

Edit: an adjective form


You also need a third in case one of the first two goes pop, and because batteries don't like being left on the shelf fully charged (or discharged), it needs to be actively cycled through. That's N+1 redundancy; N+2 means four in total assuming you can charge as fast as you can discharge.


This may be a stupid idea, but is there any reason that this kind of heavy machinery needs a battery and couldn't just be connected to a power source via a (admittedly, very long) cable?


Very long cables at normal supply voltages (240V/380V) suffer too much voltage drop over any distance (say) >150m. Remember that we're talking of multi-kilometre distances, not a mere hectare or two.

Not only that, but anyone who has used an electric lawnmower on a larger area will tell you that cables are a fucking hazard to navigation when you're trying to move a machine trailing a cable. They constantly get tangled, driven over and cut.

So anything at a reasonable voltage to run heavy machinery at a long distance from the nearest supply would need to be... I don't accurately know -- ask an electrical engineer for a definitive answer, but... something like 1.1kV. Cable that's sufficiently well insulated for moderately high voltage is /very/ expensive and deadly if the insulation gets compromised. Doesn't sound very feasible to me. Maybe someone with more EE knowledge can prove me wrong -- this is just my gut-feel conjecture. I got kicked out of the EE program at university for being bored to tears by this sort of stuff.


We run trains over multiple kilometres with overhead wires why can’t we do it with tractors???


>why can’t we do it with tractors???

Trains run in straight lines, farm equipment has various widths and it's not just 'tractors' and you're going up and down rows of farmland that might be tens or hundreds of acres wide and that aren't always in the shape of a square or rectangle (it's often far easier to work around large glacial boulders or trees for example, as well as ditches/running water/property lines etc). You'd have to string millions and millions, if not billions and billions, of miles of electrical cable across fields.

There's 915 million acres of active farmland in the U.S., that's 1.4 million square miles/3.7 million square kilometers. The larger combines can be about 40ft wide so if every scrap of farmland was in literally-square acre parcels you're going to need 5.2 power lines minimum to cover the width of a literally-square acre so you're easily talking 5 million miles of power lines.


You could, but it would be cost prohibitive in a real economic sense.

You run overhead wires where you know you will repeatedly have a large demand for power, and you pay for it once in the capital outlay to put up the wires and other scaffolding.

In other words, you want to do this where (average demand / (fixed capital cost (which correlates to peak demand)) is relatively high. The middle of the farm field is the exact opposite of that: power demand is bursty and very infrequent, so utilization will be a few orders of magnitude lower.


Trains are linear. Tractors and harvesters are areal.

You square the delivery line requirement.

A 1,000 km electric traction rail line needs 1,000 km of cable. (Or 2,000 km for a two-tracked system.)

A 1,000 km * 1,000 km area of farmland with power gridded every 100m has 10k * 10k or 100,000,000 km of delivery cable.


The very long cable sounds like a good enough reason to me ...

Agricultural land is typically in remote areas, and equipment needs to be driven for miles often to get to where it's being used.

Even if, lets say you do take the hit of the upfront costs introduce a heavy-duty power-grid to service all your land (thousands of hectares on many of the large-scale cases) - then you're still going to have to run the cable from some kind of power point, and without some aerial apparatus you're going to be running it across and through your crops.

Yeah I guess you could take the time to arrange the cable, and have somebody follow it around all day but that's a lot of extra work. Probably a lot more work than just the harvesting.

It's probably pretty dangerous too - trailing this multiphase high-power cable around where you've all this heavy equipment often doing chopping and grinding.


Someone needs to run the numbers for a modular chain of wire-carrying drones: if you get rid of the batteries, what length of cable could a drone carry? How much power would that cable be able to transmit, how much of that power would be consumed by the cable-carrying drones? Just how light could we make the power electronics to feed the drones from the (obviously, for weight reasons) high voltage power lines they would be lifting?

If this is possible at all, it could be an important base technology for a very wide range of new application fields.


That sounds crazy.

The kind of heavy duty cabling you're talking about would be very very heavy.

Now, you're not only talking about powering your combine harvester or whatever but also an army of heavy duty drones?

LOL


Good idea. If we could control those drones via a blockchain-based AI, it could be a killer product!


Is there an app for that?


We’ll write one in React Native.


Does it need to be drones? Would it be possible to use a very large cable system, similar to those TV cameras in football stadiums?


I like the idea, might be the best method to provide power to a consumer moving on a defined 2D surface.


Not a stupid idea, but it requires whole approach to farming, together with machinery to be reinvented from the ground up. Agrokruh is one example of electrically driven machinery which was already proven to be energetically efficient and profitable: https://vimeo.com/99343531


Plenty of sibling comments spelling out why not.

I want to add that for farm equipment, having a big weatherized battery cube and a crane to swap it is practical. For automobiles, less so.


Or a power rail. Fields are already very regular, I would think it possible to embed a power rail somewhere along or across it.


Power rails would be way too expensive and interfere with cultivation.


“Large-scale” is not necessarily large!

Instead of tilling/planting/harvesting 24 rows at a time, how about a fleet of mule-sized drones running one row each, deployed from a semi with a power source, swapping as needed?


I'm occasionally boggling that there's no electric farm equipment, since it at least suffers from one fewer problem than electric cars: you're mostly driving around in a finite area. You might need to plumb a dozen or so charging stations at various fields, and have the equivalent ability to essentially carry a five gallon jug of electricity to a tractor in a field when you run out accidentally, but you're not driving 200 miles to an Ikea on the spur of the moment.

Besides the lack of consumer demand (farmers have other things to worry about), I think the other thing that makes the farm market slow to adopt electric is that the market is, erm, slow. People are constantly buying new cars. Some people drive a new car every year, some people drive a car for 10 or 20 years, but I'd guess that most people get a new car every 3-7 years. That means, firstly, that a lot of people have bought a new car since they first started getting good; that also means that an electric car only has to last 3-7 years to meet most people's expectations, and your car will only be 3-7 years out of date when you get a new one.

I would guess the average farm tractor in the fields today in the US is 20-30 years old. You've got some really new ones with GPS, autopilot and satellite TV, sure, but you've also got some 50-75 year old tractors which are still doing just fine. I used to rake hay with a little Farm-All my great grandfather bought back in his prime, which is still going strong today, and I bought a used Cletrac from '45 to use around my woodlot.

This creates three problems for the prospective electric tractor manufactures: not a lot of tractors are sold each year, so you're fighting for a chunk of a very slow-moving market; prospective buyers are going to be asking themselves "will this tractor outlive me?" so you need to have a compelling story on how those battery packs and motor bearings are going to last 50 years, or be easily replaceable; the technology is still rapidly developing, so you also need to explain to the prospective buyer why it's is worth buying an electric tractor now, instead of waiting 10 years to buy a more mature electric tractor.


> I would guess the average farm tractor in the fields today in the US is 20-30 years old.

It's actually surprisingly hard to find hard numbers on this topic, but the numbers I've seen have generally suggested that the average age is more like 10-20 years old. The hard numbers I've seen do say that about 10-20% of tractors are less than 5 years old.

Realistically, the difficult part of electric tractors isn't the mileage but rather the fact that you're consuming far more power per mile. You're looking at measuring fuel consumption of around 10 gallons an hour, instead of about 1.5 gallons an hour for a car. Also, you're going to want to work the tractor for as much sunlight as you can muster, and you want to charge back up only overnight. So you'd want an equivalent not of a 200 mile range car but more like a 2500 mile range car, that can fully charge overnight.


Eh, not that surprising: you don't need to register a tractor the way you do a car, so there's no central registry of what tractors are still being used.

Re: energy storage, oof, yeah, at 146.5 MJ / gallon for diesel fuel, and 10 gallons / hour, 12 hours of fuel holds 4884 kWh of energy. Assuming you need a similarly sized battery, you're looking at 60 Tesla (car) batteries. That will weigh approximately 36 tons and cost about $700,000, based on Tesla's 141$/kWh stated cost.

Hmmm, I'm guessing you can't put more than 8-10 tons of battery on a tractor that size (the John Deere 7250, which is actually 13g/hr, weighs 13 tons) so you're limited to maybe 3 hours or so of power between charges or swapping out your batteries. For that much battery, you're looking at maybe $175,000; the John Deere 7250 retailed for ~$230,000. Assuming your batteries are swappable and fast-chargeable, you'd need at least two batteries. (Heck, it's a tractor, maybe it can be on some sort of wagon you tow behind, which would make swapping a snap.)

Putting it together, I think we might actually be approaching viability for electric tractors. If you can actually fit 8-10 tons of battery into a 13 ton tractor and build the rest of the tractor for $55,000, you could build a tractor comparable to the John Deere 7250 that would run for about 3 hours; that's not a bad amount of time to run between swapping out the batteries, but you'd need at least another $175,000 battery to swap out, which already makes you ~twice as expensive as a regular tractor. You would probably need the battery weight and cost to drop by half again before you could get a tractor that would run all day (with a battery swap) and not cost more than a conventional tractor.


> Heck, it's a tractor, maybe it can be on some sort of wagon you tow behind, which would make swapping a snap.

Well, if you're towing something behind you on a tractor, you can't use the power take-off anymore, which kind of ruins the point of the tractor for most uses.


Or the three point hitch, or the...

You might be able to set up a convoluted system where you have the power cells being dragged behind whatever equipment you're using, assuming you can get enough tires underneath to not undo whatever work you're doing to begin with (first we plow the field, then we pack it down tight!)

But then you also can't use the ~10 tons to provide extra weight on your wheels.

It just feels like you ought to be able to store your batteries in a way which makes swapping them/carting them around easier, if you don't need to have a sleek aerodynamic package that fits on a highway. Actually requiring a crane to swap your batteries adds a lot of overhead, along with room for comic fuckups.


Agricultural machinery is likely to keep using liquid hydrocarbon fuel even when it's being banned entirely from cities. It's just too much of a technological challenge, as you say.


My forecast is that heavy diesel engines (excavators, farm equipment, ships, maybe trains) will be replaced by hydrogen power. Either fuel cells in the 100-800 kW class, or gas turbines for the megawatt to tens of megawatt applications. For the latter, you might need to blend hydrogen with e.g. ammonia to slow down combustion, but we'll get there.


I've read somewhere that bio fuels make a lot of sense for powering agricultural machinery, while they'd be disastrous if we tried to power all cars with them.


Everything is easier with methane and even compressed natural gas has better storage density than liquid hydrogen (liquefied natural gas destroys hydrogen in energy per unit volume).


Asking out of genuine curiosity, does it actually matter if harvesting takes 5 or 10 days? If electricity is cheaper, it might make sense for the job to take a bit longer but be cheaper? Human labour is not involved (with automated vehicles) so price should only be dependent on actual power consumption.


Harvesting absolutely matters about time. 1-2 days can make a difference and many farms don't actually own the combines, there are companies (often families) that have fleets of combines and go from farm to farm during harvest season harvesting from sun up til sun down and moving on to the next client as quickly as possible not unlike the companies that do the same with bee hives.

Combines are EXPENSIVE, you can easily drop 600k USD on ONE combine and a class 9 (over 500 hp, basically the biggest) combine with a skilled operator will harvest 10-15 acres an hour depending on the crop, quality of the field, soil moisture etc. With over 900 million acres of active farmland in the U.S. alone...


> does it actually matter if harvesting takes 5 or 10 days?

Crops are perishable, and there's always the risk of weather conditions damaging them while they're in the field.

How much it matters will depend on the crop, but it's definitely important.


Yes, something like letting your crops get rained on just before harvest can ruin them and make them rot in storage. Although purposefully planting crops with slightly different yield times could alleviate the problem. Currently though crop harvests are a huge rush to get all of it collected as soon as possible because it all tends to ripen around the same time, if a few plants ripened or finished it usually causes surrounding plants of the same species to ripen too.


I've been wondering recently if there's some way we could "hijack" this sort of signaling mechanisms that plants seem to have... E.g. artificiall encourage the crops to ripen sooner (i.e. when we want them to).

The next step would be, to figure out how to grow just the parts of the plants that we need. I'm guessing internally, plants use some kind of hormone-like signalling mechanism that lets different parts of the plant know what to do. Why do we need a full tree (in particular, bark) when we could just grow apples directly along with a few leaves to "power" them?


I was thinking about this while driving Wednesday. I'm in a strength sport and have lots of friends in strength sports and a recent conversation with someone made me think "hmmm, we need to figure out the AAS for crops, what's the test-e dbol equivalent".

I think the problem is though, plants are pretty damn finicky and have relatively narrow conditions that will result in proper growth and fruit/vegetable production. The tiniest soil imbalance, too much sun, too little sun, too much water, too little water and blah.

The more important task at hand right now though is proper land management, we're quickly headed for another dust bowl, we are heavily relying on groundwater and depleting groundwater sources here in the U.S. (and especially in countries like India) and farmers are killing themselves at record rates.

We're about to be up shit-creek with a hole in our canoe in the next decade or two.


> plants [...] have relatively narrow conditions

Are you sure about that? Evolution would certainly strive for adaptability... Of course, evolution went through the window when humans started interfering (breeding etc), but still, just looking outside, plants seem to survive (and thrive) in relatively uncontrolled environmental conditions with wild weather swings and varying care (fertilizers, weeding, etc).

On the other hand, I can hardly keep a house plant alive, so there's that.


>Are you sure about that?

I see you've never gardened, or even had a house plant.


Yes it most certainly does matter! A crop that's harvested even a few days too late is likely to suffer severe nutrient and quality losses.

eta: Of course this varies per crop, so let me back down just a little, but for most food crops there really is a optimal window outside of which the farmers' rather meagre profits evaporate quite fast.


Transport uses a lot more fuel than farm equipment.

Biodiesel from sawgrass on marginal land or waste product like corn husks etc would work out a lot simpler for powering the equipment, and can be made on site.


Hydrocarbons are so useful, eventually we will generate them using electricity.


Costs of producing which crops? Trying to match low quality, low taste produce won’t work. The costs for largely tasteless greens and vegetables are pretty optimized. However the numbers change quite a bit with “organics” or “Whole Foods” quality of produce. Local fresh veggies and greens add a lot of flavor. Vertical farms also open the possibility of growing “lost” varieties which don’t freeze or ship well.

Even with all of that the economics have been right on the edge of easy profitability for the last few years. The biggest advancement hasn’t been a revolutionary technology, but a combination of exponentially decreasing cost of LED’s, the efficiency of LED’s, and investment in the racking and tower equipment. All of these have been decreasing, and steadily moving the line up for profitability. Combine that with continued development of robotic planting and harvesting which is a much larger cost for vertical farms since the equipment hasn’t all been developed yet.


I think I read somewhere that most leafy greens are grown hydroponically.

But there's only so many leafy greens you can grow before you saturate peoples already weak appetite.


> peoples already weak appetite.

This is the tragedy of modern commercial yield-driven market-gardening horticulture. That this is how people think salad tastes.

You can grow anything in your garden, or in a window box or whatever, and even if you've limited knowledge and don't do a pretty good job of it, it'll taste about (finger in the air) 4 to 5 times better than 85% of the stuff you buy in the shops.


> already weak appetite

What do you mean by this? The fatness epidemic hardly suggests our appetites are weak... unless you mean appetite specifically for leafy greens...


I meant leave greens specifically, sorry.


As someone more knowledgeable, do you have any insight in what would be necessary to grow food in space (with or without gravity), and how we could "prepare" for that (i.e. develop and test the technology)? That's my main interest in "indoors" technology - how does the viability, and the economics, change when "land" and power become cheap (plenty of solar in space) but transport (delta-v) is crazy expensive...


"no" to what ?

IMO nostromo is right in all points and probably even agrees with you.

IMO expensive vertical farming in cities works for expensive vegetables and spices but not for crops.

IMO indoor farming is the future of food production because it is efficient (perfect indoor climate, water, automation, less pests and pesticides, less herbs and herbicides) and allows genetic engineering of food producing plants or microbes without risk of contamination of or by the environment.


Much higher costs far exceed the advantage you gain from transportation. If you manage well you will have higher yields but not enough to overcome the hole you're in.

You will be able to charge higher prices but outside of a couple of cities the market is too shallow consisting of basically very high end restaurants. You're saving the chef having to go to the farmers market and having lettuce that is say twelve hours fresher.

Don't underestimate a savvy farmer from making deliveries and undercutting your advantage because in some cities it's already happened. Or a Detroit startup I know that is picking up from the farmer and making deliveries, chefs can order from their cell phone.


I've worked in this field. I'll list a few points for it.

1) Pesticide free. There's a lot of chemicals that go into growing crops and they contaminate our bodies, water, and soil.

2) Sun is free, but sun exposure and temperature aren't consistent year round.

3) Shipping may be cheap, but the time of travel from the farm to the table is long. Growing locally increases the amount of time a plant can be on the shelf or fridge before going bad. Food waste is a big problem from a waste and cost perspective.

4) You've touched on the water aspect. It's an issue that this can solve.

5) Going back to farming and food waste, much of the crop grown is scrapped due to insect or animal damage, rot, or other reasons.

6) Soil type and exhaustion. Only certain type of plants can be grown in certain soils and environments and only for so long before the soil is exhausted of nutrients.

7) In hydroponics you can control the taste of the product by the light spectrum and nutrients. Some customers ask for specific tastes, which is something farms can't provide.

8) Hydroponics is just the first step. The next step is integration of microbials and aquaculture with aquaponics.


>7) In hydroponics you can control the taste of the product by the light spectrum and nutrients. Some customers ask for specific tastes, which is something farms can't provide.

I think you're selling farmers short there, I reckon quite a few of them could affect the taste of their produce, but can't because the market just buys from them in bulk with no regard for taste.


Yes and no. If they put the resources into it I'm sure they might be able to, but the flavor change comes from the light spectrum and nutrients so that'd be very difficult for them to control out in the open elements.


So what you're saying is that small batch sizes allow varied products to be produced at low cost with a low overheads? Wonder where I've heard that before...


Apple farms in my experience can have so many different flavours and varieties. Always stop at Apple farms and hopefully go pick some of your own. The store apples will never seem the same.


> 4) You've touched on the water aspect. It's an issue that this can solve.

Market pricing for water could solve all of the problems with water too.


> 3) Shipping may be cheap, but the time of travel from the farm to the table is long. Growing locally increases the amount of time a plant can be on the shelf or fridge before going bad. Food waste is a big problem from a waste and cost perspective.

To the point that strains are picked and/or modified based on their ability to withstand long trips.


Yup, and are also harvested early so they ripen on the way to the store. Also since plants start to decay as soon as they're picked(even if cooled), the more time that passes until consumption the less nutritious they will be.


>6) Soil type and exhaustion. Only certain type of plants can be grown in certain soils and environments and only for so long before the soil is exhausted of nutrients.

Wouldn't this also be true for vertical farming?


Not if done with hydroponics. The water is frequently dosed with nutrients to keep the proper levels.


>dosed with nutrients

Forgive me for the possible ignorance, but that sounds like just a different means of addressing the same problem of having to add nutrients to the soil. Don't we add fertilizer/till/change soil? Why is it better to dose with nutrients?


It's not the same. It's much easier to do dosing with water since they're soluable and can be evenly dispersed. The different in medium with dirt makes this much hard. There will also be build up of unused nutrients that throw off the proportions. The build up of nutrients and non-uniform distribution can make the crops vulnerable to various side effects including nutrient burn. This build up in hydroponics is mitigated by periodically flushing and replacing the water system.


They're not using soils; they're providing the entire environment for the plants to grow, including any nutrients.


Why not aeroponics?


Aeroponics I would technically classify as a subset of hydroponics. It's just a variation of technique.


Good points all. The aesthetic appeal of this sort of indoor farming, and the space-age-ness gives the topic a tendency to over-excitement.

I'd also add (4) Mostly, urban/vertical/cubicle farms produce high quality/price leafy herbs & veg. It's not replacing vast cereal fields. That's a very small portion of agriculture overall, definitely by land use but also by most measures.

All that said, the are real space-age-ish merits to this. It's like a showcase for various technologies, at (small, but still) production scale.


Also, for these fast growing, relative high margin produce, having fresh product out of season that is near-local, I think has a demand.


I believe that this is a relatively reliable marker for whether 5-star restaurants will be in the area. quick on-demand access to fresh, never-frozen, produce. They also tend to go for out-of-season / exotic produce, which is doesnt need to be grown in end-world-hunger quantities.


Why a restaurant wouldn't run their own private vertical farm where they would control the quality and amount of supply? That would remove supply volatility and transport costs entirely, and even some bulk products can be produced at smaller scale organically.


Because there are serious costs to bringing everything in-house; you've got to get hold of the capital, you lose any economies of scale that come from addressing a larger market, etc.

With regards to transportation costs, you're assuming that a restaurant running a private vertical farm could do so on its storefront premises, which is a big assumption. Most pricey restaurants are space-limited.


like these?

http://m.wtol.com/toledonewsnow/pm_/contentdetail.htm?conten...

https://www.circa.com/story/2017/12/20/food/a-vertical-%20fa...

anyway, I’m not a big fan of the use of indoor farms with artificial lighting. The sun provides the energy that plants need to us at no cost but it’s costly to produce the energy from LED’s. I’m more in favor of the use of greenhouses on rooftops, and urban restaurants getting as much produce as possible sourced from local urban farms, and creating that economy. But hey, people are definitely doing it with LED’s on-premise and making it work for them.


my guess is they have a limited amount of time to manage such a thing and the scale isn't large enough to cover the variety they'd want


There is a pretty good case to wean us off cereals. They aren’t the best diet health wise. We only consume so much because they are calorie dense and easy to grow.


You would also have to wean us off meat, including poultry. Not all meat, sure, but the bulk is cereal-fed in CAFO factory operations. Similarly you'd have to wean us off most of the dairy produce and dairy-derived food we like, because grass-fed is not going to produce the quantities we've grown accustomed to. Then you'd have to wean us off bread and beer, and a whole host of extracted starches and sugars that are used in manufacturing much of the so-called processed foods. Because that's where most of the cereals are going.

So... most of humanity on a more-or-less vegan diet.


Most meat will be lab grown within a decade. Livestock meat will become a luxury


Within a decade? I'd be surprised if even 0.1% of meat is lab grown in 2028.


Investor in a previous startup is heavily invested in this. Knowing what i know i expect the market to explode once it hits is economic potential.


Is it even really technically feasible yet? If we could grow meat in a lab, then we should be able to grow replacement human organs in a lab too, but we're definitely not there yet, though we're making progress.


Care to put a little Bitcoin on that? ;) I'm skeptical.


Like what? Potatoes? There are a few high calorie-per-area staples that we know how to grow, process, prepare and store at scale. Sure there might be a 'revolution' (like when electricity was discovered), but there are no obvious candidates to what you're saying, nor a real incremental progress path to follow.

And 'easy to grow' is rather dismissive of the vast amounts of progress we've had to make to come to the point we are now...


you have to replace those calories with something, and it makes no sense if the something has 100x the production costs for what returns exactly?


The issue with this view is it is looking at the future potential using today's technology and efficiency. We're about to blow productivity per watt out of the water and this will change everything. If you want to know more watch jeremy rifkin's talk on YouTube https://youtu.be/QX3M8Ka9vUA


You are never going to beat the efficency of the sun shining down on plants for free, no matter what. I mean the entire idea is absurd, what are you going to have solar panels on the building that somehow collect light and re-emit it, and have that be more efficent than just the plants collecting the light directly?

So you take more land area for solar, why wouldnt you just plant crops on that land area instead...


If you grow things indoors close to where they will be consumed you can control the environment reducing risk of drought, flooding, pest, pollution, wildfires, storm damage, blight etc etc. You also reduce the supply chain complexities around collection, transport and storage (inert gas storage etc). There are many other considerations apart from energy and when energy becomes cheap enough the game will turn in favour of growing in urban areas.


None of those issues are actually serious problems for agriculture in most areas most of the time. And energy will never be cheap enough in our lifetimes to change the calculation significantly.


you can also enclose fields as they exist if those are somehow significant problems. There is still absolutely zero need to build vertical


The sun produces a full spectrum of light, like a blackbody of a certain temperature. The atmosphere then selectively absorbs, scatters, or reflects a portion of it. That produces the Earth daylight spectrum, which varies by season, latitude, and time of day. It doesn't ever match up precisely with the absorption spectrum of plant pigments.

A grow light can produce the exact wavelength of blue light most readily absorbed by chlorophyll, and the exact wavelength of red light most readily absorbed by phytochrome, and the exact wavelengths of other hormone/signaling photoreceptor pigments.

The grow light produces exactly the light that the plant needs, whereas the sun throws out a lot of energy that the plant cannot use effectively. If we had a material that could absorb two green photons and emit one blue photon, that would improve the photosynthetic efficiency of sunlight, but for now, it's still easier for us to turn green light into electricity and power a blue LED.


Not only that but with careful management you can squeeze 4 seasons into a year


As a commenter on the same top-level comment noted:

"The investors funding these enterprises do not understand agricultural economics. I keep investigating these stories looking for some kind of 'breakthrough tech' that would dramatically reduce costs or increase yields. I've been tracking these vertical greenhouses for fifteen years, they open and a couple of years later they're gone."

Higher productivity per watt in the broader industrial sense does not equal higher productivity per watt in the smaller sector that is agriculture.


If the developing world switched over to a high meat diet as the developed world, it would be an environmental catastrophe


Even worse is all the people adopting the "ketogenic" diet these days.


Mostly leafy greens are already grown hydroponically, I believe.


I don't have data, but I do have anecdotal evidence to contradict #1.

I live in upstate NY, where farm land is cheap (in relative terms). We are seeing an influx of Amish, who can no longer afford land in Ohio and Pennsylvania. (To be clear, they might be able to afford land, but at such a cost as to risk the enterprise and family. The Amish won't do that.)

We are also seeing new farmers moving here from states such as Wisconsin. They have family in those states, but they can't afford the startup costs including land. Here they can.

I think land costs are more complicated than you make out.


You can start farming on land that you lease. When you have enough hardware and capital you start buying gradually. Starting as a farmer is very difficult but not for these reasons alone. Learning craft is super difficult. Sometimes you have one shot during a season to try something. My parent had higher education, where born into families with farming traditions but still took a decade to master vegetable production.

Amish cannot afford land because they suck at farming. They lack education and intentionally do not use modern farming techniques.


No, because: when the land becomes expensive you just move somewhere else, as evidenced by your own statement.

Yes, because: there isn't an unlimited supply of land at the bottom of the gravity well.

But I'm willing it bet it's cheaper to irrigate the desert than grow food in multi-story buildings.

There's an intermittent push to put agriculture in nothern Australia, which is presently very sparsely populated.


Shipping produce from northern Australia to the Americas or Europe is going to mean you'll either have a bunch of spoiled produce, or produce that was picked far too early and has no taste or nutritional value. Are you planning to ship food by jet to deal with this?


" where farm land is cheap (in relative terms)"

To put this into context for me, what cost do you call 'cheap'? And that land they're being outpriced from, how much does that sell for?

For comparison, agricultural land in the Netherlands is around 50-60k euros (60-70k USD) per hectare, so about half that per acre; in Belgium it's a little bit less but not much. When I look at those prices and do some back of the envelope calculations, my mind boggles at the efficiency they need to make enough to pay back the loans to buy this land in the first place (I do enough work in agricultural economics to know that it's more complicated than that at the micro scale, but still, overall, someone has to make money).


I don't know about that guy's area, but near me in Michigan, which has a similar climate as NY, you can find decent land for $9K per hectacre easy, possibly cheaper.


Wow. That's in stark contrast to across the lake in Southern Ontario. Good farmland has been selling for upwards of $20,000 CAD/acre, or about $30,000 USD/hectare.


Michigan is not known as a big farming state. I don't know why.

Tons of Midwestern agriculture data available here: https://www.chicagofed.org/research/data/ag-conditions/index This also includes links to agriculture data in other areas of the US.


1) Depends where you live. In a lot of the world's biggest cities in terms of population you've got to travel really far to find land. Probably still cheaper to transport the goods into town than grow it locally, but that comes at the expense of freshness, time, and taxing a freight network that could be used to transport other things. Not to mention places like the Vatican, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc, which don't really have land to use.

2) Sure, it's ironic to harness solar energy to give light to plants, but it might well be more effective. Plants can in a theoretic perfect world collect 11% of the sun's energy for use in photosynthesis according to Wikipedia. In effect the figure is more like 3% to 6%. A majority of solar panels have an efficiency of between 15-17%. The building's owner might actually be able to sell surplus energy to the market after lighting and warming/cooling their plants. That's not mentioning wind power which is readily available at the top of tall structures. As for the lighting, I'm not sure where your claim that you're losing 90% of energy comes from... LEDs are quite effective.

3) As I've pointed out above, your dismissal of this idea rests on quite a few incorrect assumptions. Shipping is cheap..ish.. but there's an opportunity cost associated with it. Hong Kong, for example, is extremely reliant on imports of food. 47% of the city's fruit go through one market, 317,000 tonnes of it in 2014. If just a portion of that, by weight, was taken off the streets by urban farming on brownfield plots, rooftops, or property that for regulatory reasons can be neither residential or industrial (noise/safety) the cost of shipping other goods would drop.

I'm glad you mention the water. By 2050 the World Bank estimates the number of urban dwellers with seasonal water shortages will reach 1.9bn people. If urban farming can help this issue, even if all the other benefits weren't present, it would be worth it.


To address your point two : a crystalline Si PV panel has 25% efficiency, and the best white leds are about 45% efficiency.

So the sunlight->panel->led->light conversion does waste ~90% of the sunlight.

This is made less bad by not lighting plants with white light but purple light, but clearly solar panel on the roof, plants indoor don't make much sense.

Now, the reasoning is completely different if the electricity is produced elsewhere, transporting produce may not be that expensive, but transporting electricity is a lot cheaper.

The main benefit from urban farming is definitely reduced time from harvesting to the plate, and the ability to consume varieties that don't transport well...


>So the sunlight->panel->led->light conversion does waste ~90% of the sunlight. >This is made less bad by not lighting plants with white light but purple light, but clearly solar panel on the roof, plants indoor don't make much sense.

Why not? Wasting 90% of the sunlight is still better than using sunlight directly, where the plants themselves only use 4-7% of the sunlight. The plants are wasting all the green-spectrum light, which is where most of the sun's energy is.

Besides, you wouldn't use white LEDs, there's no sense in that. You'd use LEDs tuned for the wavelengths that plants actually use.


Im sure it depends on the plant, as im basing this on weed growing info, but with the top economical growing LEDs take 35-50 watts per square foot. With vegetative growth possible down to 11 W/sqft but at a much slower rate.

At a cost of atleast $2 a per watt for lights (possibly up to $4 a square foot for industrial/commercial electrical rating) and assuming 35 watts per square foot, a 2000 square foot grow space, you are looking at $140,000 in LEDs alone. plus 70KW for 16 hours a day(+10% more for supply inefficiencies), that's about 1200 kilowatt hours of power needed to supply daily. Not sure how many panels that is but it has to be a lot.


Shipping costs time as well as money. Cheap shipping also requires trade-offs that are not always advantageous with foods.

For instance, it may be cheaper to grow tomatoes in Florida rather than in Manhattan, but in order to get a Florida tomato to Manhattan, the tomato itself has to be a bruise-resistant variety with predictable shape and size, harvested while green, and artificially ripened with ethylene gas. The tomato grown in Manhattan and eaten in Manhattan can be one of those bulbous, deeply-pigmented heirloom varieties, harvested while ripe, and eaten within hours, bursting with actual tomato flavor.

The tomato grown in Florida must be grown during the tomato-growing season for Florida. The vertical farm tomato can be grown as easily in the local regular season or for harvest in mid-February.

Rather than solar panels and LEDs, the rooftop could support advanced deck prisms that pipe natural sunlight through optical fibers. That alone is likely insufficient to meet the lighting needs of the plants, but it would be more efficient, and a watt of natural sunlight is a watt that you don't have to pump through the LEDs. The true advantage of LEDs is not in energy efficiency, but in wavelength tuning. The farming LEDs don't even produce the green light that is usually reflected by plants. Also, the red-blue balance can be altered to produce different effects on the plants. Blue light produces growth, and red light influences the plant hormones for germination, rooting, etiolation, and flowering. Tinkering with the red-blue schedule could allow the farmer to grow larger heads of lettuce or cabbage without bolting.

And, as you mentioned, hydroponics and aeroponics are more water-efficient.

Vertical farming will never entirely replace land-surface farming, but it will complement it. And it will allow farming underground, and in non-terrestrial habitats.


Would land and shipping both be cheap if we ceased to externalize a lot of the cost of each?

Both land use [1] and shipping [2] contribute significant fractions of our society's carbon budget.

[1] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/285/5427/574

[2] https://www.transportenvironment.org/press/shipping-emission...

That said, I'm not so sure about 2-story, LED-lit warehouses for growing food either...


Yes, it would still be cheap in comparison.

You are correct that there are externalities. But even if we priced in thise externalities, it would most currently NOT 100X the price (which is what would be required to make vertical farming cost competitive).

I would be extremely surprised if those externalities even came close to 2Xing the price of "normal" farming.


> Would land and shipping both be cheap if we ceased to externalize a lot of the cost of each?

No.

But neither would the energy and equipment used to do this vertical farming either.

IMHO it's only a "thing" because it can be presented as a disrupting-startup-venture to attract capital. Like those "farm-in-a-box" things.


That energy and equipment is priced a lot better than land use, on average.


The other big problem with this story is that they are looking at the retail price in the store and comparing it to a retail price that doesn't include the food distribution system.

Farmers get a ridiculously small percentage of the retail price on food. The price per pound in a store is usually comparable (same order of magnitude) to the wholesale price per ton.

The production cost for this tech is probably at least 10X traditional farming. It makes no sense because we have too much food. The biggest nutritional problem in society is obesity and we burn 1/3 of our corn crop on ethanol and feed a good part of the rest (and soy) to cattle and pigs because there is nothing else to do with it.


Totally agreed. And on top of that: ~70% of the farmland is used to produce animal fodder. Beef production is straining our agricultural system. If we ate less beef, we'd be able to farm the rest much more sustainable, even if it would be with lower yields.


I agree with all your points. However, I believe there are additional costs to land farming like insects, weather damage, etc. So, yes, the sun is free but that comes with the caveats of the elements. Not sure how much crop is lost due to insects/drought/other factors but perhaps this helps.


Commercial farms generally have some form of Crop insurance along with equipment insurance etc.

I don't think very small one man farms that sell directly at farmers markets are eligible for most of the programs. But most of those people grow in residential areas not properly zoned for agriculture.

Vertical could be interesting to try in those micro backyard farms.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_insurance


vertical farming will only be economically viable with near free power and massive transport taxes. Nuclear power would be the only realistic viable option.

Given the damage that agriculture has done to the environment, vertical farming would be a smart choice for humanity. but sadly with out current perceptions of nuclear power and the stranglehold that globalism has, it will likely never happen.


> Given the damage that agriculture has done to the environment

Has it? I thought that the worst thing for the environment was subsistence farming.


I guess people mostly downvote you because your statement is not popular, but it's not quite correct either. 'Subsistence farming' isn't one well defined thing. There are form of subsistence farming that are very bad; for example, I'm doing work on agriculture in Madagascar now where people (due to a lack of knowledge and systemic thinking) do agriculture by slashing down rainforest to get access to the very fertile soil underneath. That soil inevitably washes out fast (because the trees and more in particular the roots that hold the soil are removed), so a few seasons later they move on to the next patch of rain forest and so on. This is one of the major environmental threats on the island.

That said, 'subsistence farming' in temperate climates as it was practiced say in the 18th and 19th century in Europe is quite different. It revolved around permanent settlements (so people couldn't move on quite as easily) and used crop rotation and animal manure for keeping productivity if not high then at least at sufficient levels. We couldn't live from a system like that today, and it was bad for the environment in the sense that it made people put essentially all land into cultivation, but it wasn't as immediately destructive as other forms of subsistence farming are.


> as it was practiced say in the 18th and 19th century in Europe is quite different

With minor variations it's still practiced in parts of Europe, to this day :)


Why? Pesticides kill non-pests, irrigation dries up entire rivers, destroying ecosystems, waterways get poisoned, nutrients run off land, deforestation causes erosion, mono-crop farms starve bees, etc., etc. Humans, through our large-scale agriculture, have an unprecedented negative effect on our environment. Subsistence farming has had these effects to a much smaller extent (due in part to it only being viable with smaller populations).

But, people need to eat, and so here we are. Alternatives to traditional agriculture would be great, but must make economic sense to actually take hold.

Besides, subsistence farming is agriculture.


Near 60% of the world's total crop yield is the direct result of artificial fertilizer, which uses methane/natural gas as a base reagent + large amounts of power. If it wasn't for the artificial fertilizer it wouldn't be that bad for pollution, but at the same time we would be looking at near 3x or more the amount of farmland to grow the same amount of crops.


>Has it? I thought that the worst thing for the environment was subsistence farming.

Who says that subsistence farming is bad?

I've always heard that large-scale industrial agriculture is bad because it destroys the soil. Or that it breaks the soil up so it then blows or washes away.


If that were true modern industrial agriculture would self-destruct within 5 years.


IMHO modern industrial agriculture isn't using the soil ( in the strict definition of soil) anymore. It is basically just using the ground as a growing medium and then providing the nutrients that the soil would provide through applications of nitrogen/phosphorous/potassium.

Every year I watch the sand from the farm next door runoff in spring rains into the ditch, which ends up in the creek across the road, which then runs down into Lake Ontario. There's no soil left. On almost all the farms here. But they can still grow things through 'artificial' means.


Point two is why I'm so disappointed in many of my friends from back when I studied physics who are really into this idea. Like, it's basic thermodynamics, guys! If we want to make agriculture sustainable we should try to break even energy wise, not waste even more with the physical equivalent to more layers of abstraction!


I've read a few times vertical farms use LED that only emit very specific wavelengths. The solar panel on the roof would capture energy on spectrum unused by plants, making the sun light => electric energy => LED light thingy not as bad as it seems intuitively. Is that possible?

Though i'd guess semi transparent solar panels above fields capturing light plants wouldn't use could be even more efficient, if it will ever exist.


I disagree with your point 3): the reason shipping is considered cheap, has to do with low fuel expenses and people ignoring other costs like pollution. Since cargo ships travel over 90% of their time in international waters, they are not bound by any pollution laws and can get away with burning the dirtiest (and thus cheapest) fuel they can find. For example, international shipping accounts for 8% of the global SO2 emissions.

Luckily, there is some movement to move to cleaner fuels instead [1], but that is slow progress.

[1] https://www.theicct.org/blogs/staff/end-era-heavy-fuel-oil-m...


Actual shipping long-distance, by ship, is unsuitable for perishable goods like these. Overland, or by air is how much of these goods will typically get to market.


we ( http://www.mywildeye.com/ ) are doing a lot of IoT stuff on the west coast of California, New Zealand, and Australia in the agricultural space. You can do a lot lot better with water usage simply by understanding what your water is doing.


You can do better but you will never beat hydro


yield of hydroponic wheat is significantly lower than conventional production in soil. Prof. Bugbee and team worked on this at NASA.


Thanks will check it out. Goes against everything I've experienced


3) Shipping is cheap.

No, thats an externality you don't care about. Its not cheap in social consequence terms. hauling food by road from centralized warehouses is a twofold sin. Firstly, its food miles and NO, CO2 and other burdens. Secondly, its why e coli spreads across the USA: too much centralisation of distribution.

"cheap" food is actually at root, the problem. It needs to be affordable, but high quality. We're stuck on cheap, which drives to cheetos.


It costs less in CO2 costs to ship a leg of lamb from New Zealand to a supermarket in Los Angeles than it does for you to get in a car and bring that lamb home with you. It also costs less in CO2 costs to ship that lamb from NZ to a supermarket than to truck it in from a local farm to your fancy organic farmer's market.

If you want to attack CO2 costs, the primary costs are in the last mile.


> If you want to attack CO2 costs, the primary costs are in the last mile.

If you want to attack CO2 costs, 90% of lamb's CO2 production occurs on the farm. Only 10% is from processing, distribution, retail, cooking, and waste disposal [1].

Let's charitably assume 1/3 of the post-farm CO2 emissions are from distribution and half of those could be saved by producing closer to the point of consumption.

So farm production only needs to be 1.8% (=(10/3/2)/90) more efficient in NZ for it to be net beneficial.

Presumably NZ is particularly efficient for lamb, otherwise it wouldn't be such a major export.

[1] To pick one reasonably creditble data source, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_meat_p... which ends with this graph: https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/webcitation/419e58a77a34f...


While I could believe that this is true, I would love to see some evidence to back up this claim. You would also need to account for the entirety of emissions, including, as a previous commenter said, other emissions involved in the supply chain.


It's not true sadly. http://www.worldshipping.org/industry-issues/environment/air...

If you go with a to of lamb for simplicity thats 10g/km. It's about 10km so 100,000g. The truck is like, let's go on the high end 100g/km and what, 100km? That's still only 10kg of co2. Unless of course I'm missing something.


The chart assumes you are moving 1 ton of material, so its 20kg of co2 to ship 1 ton of lamb 100km.


The answer is, as usual, 'it depends'. There are journals full of people modeling things like this. What is sure though, is that the claim 'local is always better' is not true. But it's easy to attack absolutes because they're almost always wrong.


Do you have any data to back this up? How does the NZ lamb get to the airport? And how does it get from the airport to the grocery store?


I think the parent comment is referencing the huge economies of scale you get on shipping things in bulk with respect to CO2 emissions. If you have 1,000 legs of lamb in a shipping container, the per-leg CO2 cost is low in comparison to one leg of lamb in a car, even if the distances are very different. A heavy truck gets maybe 6mpg compared to your car getting 25, but if the truck is carrying 1000x more items, the truck would have to go ~250 times farther to break even.

I'm not sure how it breaks out for air cargo (probably not great), but ocean and rail are both more efficient than trucks.


The problem is that's only amortizing on side of the equation. If you were to pick up that leg of lamb and a dozen other things on the way home from work then the additional CO2 cost from the lamb itself is negligible.

It's like saying cars produce less emissions than bikes by including the manufacturing costs of the bike but not the car.


Sure, it also depends what kind of car you're driving, how much traffic there is, how far you are from the grocery store, etc. etc. The original parent point I was trying to clarify is that transportation impact on the environment for most food products is low on the list of things we should be worrying about.


> It also costs less in CO2 costs to ship that lamb from NZ to a supermarket than to truck it in from a local farm to your fancy organic farmer's market.

How does the lamb get from the port to the grocery store? Is the port not roughly equidistant from the point of sale as the local farm? How is the “fancy organic farmers market” less efficient to ship to in the last mile before the point of sale?


Well that all depends on the exact numbers, doesn't it? But someone going to the farmers market twice as often as they'd need to go to the supermarket (because that produce doesn't last as long, although that mostly because of less efficient processing methods in small farms) is already almost surely polluting more than the person going to the supermarket.

That's not even mentioning the savings that can be had from home delivery. Although I had a local organic pig farmer deliver meat at home just yesterday, so that's not an advantage exclusive to large players (provided he has enough customers to do multiple drops on one tour - I should've asked him, come to think of it).


Meat (aside from fresh fish) is rarely flown.


That’s not really the point. Unless you go grocery shopping at the (air)port something else brings the goods to your store.


So:

CO2 for meat from NZ: Shipping + last mile

CO2 for locally produced meat: last mile

How is meat from NZ producing less CO2 than locally produced?


You're using one (18-wheeler) truck for all of the different kinds of food for the last mile in terms of distribution center-to-supermarket, but one (pickup) truck each for the different sources for the farm-to-farmer's market. Not to mention that the distribution center is likely closer than the farms.


But food doesn't grow in distribution centers. At some point you have to transport the food out of the farm. That would result in the following chains (simplified):

Local: Farm -(1)-> Farmer's market -(4)-> Consumer's home

National: Farm -(1)-> Distribution center -(3)-> Supermarket -(4)-> Consumer's home

International: Farm -(1)-> Harbor/Distribution center of producing country -(2)-> Harbor/Distribution center of consuming country -(3)-> Supermarket -(4)-> Consumer's home

Where (1) is the farmer's pickup truck, (2) is a massive high-seas-capable container vessel, (3) is the 18-wheeler and (4) is the consumer's audi.

Yes, (2) and (3) may be vastly more efficient in CO2 per transported item - but it doesn't change the fact that they happen in addition to (1) and (4).


That's not the case. When you talk about large-scale farming, the (1) in the latter chains are actually (3).


I would note it's frequently an 18-wheeler from the farm to a distribution center as well.


I appreciate the commitment to social consequences, but I think you're mis-estimating.

Shipping is cheap, also in terms of the energy (for example) required to ship too. There are social consequences to using real estate for farming, using artificial lighting and to producing the vegetable factory too.


I should have said I think think indoor farming is silly(ish)

I live in Australia. the costs of shipping fruit by road from Victoria to Queensland are indeed cheap. Especially when you don't factor road quality, driver rates of pay, loss of jobs in the Queensland agricultural sector. And look, we have tomatoes all year round: crappy ones, with good shelf life, because thats what you need when you ship them by freight truck 1500km to shave 10c per KG off the price, so you can undercut the local produce.

I also know cheap food fuels the economy. I think people have got a bit twisted on cheap. Good food should be cheap enough we can afford it, and expensive enough people can afford to grow it, and if you drive to rationalist economic scale answers too hard, you wind up with three farmers and thirty thousand un-employed ex agicultural workers. And, you wind up with acid-sulphate soil, contaminated water tables, monsanto owning the seed genome.

I'd rather we did some shipping and some local. I'm not particularly hung up on vertical farms, greenhouses are mostly ok with me.

The loss of farming land close to cities to make houses is part of the Queensland South East corner story. We're a giant conurbation, of prime river floodland, some of the best soil in the country. It should be growing Asparagus. Its growing blocks of flats instead.


The current vertical farming is in its infancy, sooner or later, new optimizations will emerge that will allow major increases in productivity(e.g. producing only the exact wavelengths of light optimal for growth, computer rationed water supply, advances in genetic editing like CRISPR, better knowledge of small-scale processes when studied in isolation such as their nutrient/energy needs, the selection and study of nutrient rich strains, how plants respond to increases in light/sound/vibration, etc). The idea that natural environment is optimal for growth is a conservative assumption that we need to replicate it exactly. There many factors out of control with natural environment that we apply pesticides, fertilizers, greenhouses, soil tilling, herbicides and weed removal, etc. A closed vertical farm environment will allow much cheaper overall control over production process.


Short of a free and unlimited source of energy, growing most food under the sun is going to be the norm for quite some time.


Greenhouses solve the problem of water while still using the sun. Peri-urban greenhouses also save on transportation costs while only being mildly more expensive in terms of land costs. As cities become more dense, former sprawl can be repurposed into local agricultural land.


Regarding #2, I wonder if it may be possible to get greater than 100% efficiency here by panels absorbing a wide spectrum of light, but only emitting on the certain frequencies that are generally most beneficial for growing/fruiting plants?


That would require the solar panel to be more efficient at capturing solar energy than a plant


Aaand this is true! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthetic_efficiency

1-2% of best plants vs 22% of best commercial panels! :)


This is not exactly correct. The link explains why by breaking down the stages of efficiency loss. The solar panels only mitigate the first step, so you are look at 22% vs 47% for plants. Then, the 22% is not including losses from converting the electricity to lighting (or heck, the energy to create those panels in the first place).

LEDs can select the most favorable wavelengths however so maybe it can approach parity again.


You could generate chemically costly preproducts for the plant synthetically too to help its efficiency. Things like increasing CO2 and providing at least nitrogen.

But while you are at it, you could directly to synthetic food... Hydrogen, methane, formaldehyde, sugars.


Sounds like the best solution mid term, before we'll be uploaded to computers. :)


I wonder if it's really necessary to convert the light to electricity as an intermediate step. I'm imagining a filter that's mostly transparent but has a fluorescent coating to convert UV to visible light that the plants can use, effectively brightening the sun in the useful part of the spectrum. Unfortunately Google is giving me the wrong kind of results for "fluorescent filter".


The material you are looking for is called a scintillator. It converts higher energy photons to visible. Of course it has its own issues / cost. Plus, you have to get the light from the rooftop to plants.


But you are not getting rid of the low plant efficiency. any other losses will simply come on top. nothing beats direct sunlight.


I guess that it may be possible. The plants probably have hard time optimizing for this and just eclipsing or poisoning other plants is better strategy for them.

You would however be also limited with efficiency of the lamps.


2) This is incorrect. Plants are not efficient, photosynthesis needs only a tiny part of the spectrum. Just he numbers, the efficiency of photosynthesis is 3-6% while the majority of the solar cells have around 16% efficiency or even higher. Hence it makes absolutely sense to cover everything with panels and use leds to produce the exact amount needed.


Industrial farming is ravaging the land that could otherwise be used for ecologically positive purposes. What you say looks simple on the surface however when you take a holistic view of the biosphere much of it needs to be further interrogated.


And to add, transportation may have a low upfront cost in dollars but it has a massive impact on the environment in the long run.


the amount of farmland area you could substitute with urban vertical farming is neglible. way below one percent.


This is like the famous 'we'll only need 64kb ram' quote. I look forward to it being proven completely and absurdly wrong in the coming years.


No, it is actually not.

To elaborate:

a) Urban Farming commonly produces leafy greens and water rich produce like tomatoes and cucumbers. This is commonly known as 'horticulture'. The horticulture to 'farmland farming' ratio is already less than 1:10. A larger part of horticulture are crop that grow pretty well on the fields and that are commonly not produced under glass in CES (controlled environment systems). These are crops like Kale, Cabbage, Beans, Peas, Potatoes, Carrots etc. The ratio of CES to horticulture is also well above 1:10. So in summary even if we'd take all the CES production into the cities, it would be well below 1%

b) Viewed from the other side, from the available area. Even in a relatively boring and unpopular city like for example Dortmund/Germany it is extremely hard to find available plots that would be suitable for UF. If the plot is in a residential zone the square meter price is 200-400€. Commercial zone: 80-100€. Agricultural (outside city boundaries): 3-5€. So inner city plots are waaay more expensive than agricultural land. We are currently trying to find roundabout three acres of inner city space for an urban farm. With the help of the municipality. It is going to become very hard to find something. To find anything...


Heck, even if you'd simply assume that you can take _all_ of the city space and farm on it, it is still just a small fraction of agriculture. Cities are dense. Cities only cover relatively little of the overall available area.


You don't need to farm the inner city but it certainly helps to do it nearby. You can definitely benefit from doing it on the rural outskirts of cities


For every statement that in hindsight is hilarious because we've surpassed it by miles, there's thousands and thousands of statements that are wrong because of their sheer optimism.

Just watch The Jetsons :)


Can't mirrors/fiber optics/windows instead of walls solve #2?


In the end you need just too much collection area - more than the square footage of each floor put side to side. It's easier to put the 'collection area' somewhere remote as solar panels and bring in the light as electricity. The energy cost isn't that big a deal compared to the labor cost.


in our model calculations the energy costs are in the same ballpark like labour. thus energy costs are the main culprit. transporting "the light" from elsewhere to the crop has a ~90% loss (20% - 25% solar efficiency times transport losses of 20% times LED efficiency of 40% - 50%). so you need ten times the area elsewhere to be space efficient on a premium priced area. also viewed from crop product pricing the economics simply don't add up. there are much more profitable things you can do on urban real estate.

(I'm working in the field of agricultural economics)


Others (e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17467755) have highlighted that plants only use a few specific wavelengths. Have you included that in your calculations, i.e. are you comparing (sunlight -> electricity -> LED at optimal wavelength -> photosynthesis at that wavelength) vs. (sunlight -> photosynthesis)?


What is the benefit of vertical farming if you need to occupy 10x more land with solar panels than conventional farming?


Solar panels don't require as much water.


If hydroponics eventually leads to deforestation in pursuit of (cheap?) agricultural land becoming unviable - it would have solved a very real problem.


> 1) No, land is not expensive. In agricultural areas, land is quite cheap. Organizing shelves of crops vertically solves for a problem that isn't actually a problem.

Land is cheap but we're running out of it in a lot of places. We need to stop razing forests to make more farmland, and we need 100% more calories by 2050 to feed the world, and yields are only going up by 2% / year over year, which won't even come close to 100% growth in the next 30 years. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/07/01/this-...

All that means that the vast amounts of land required for field production are going to get more expensive. The way I've seen folks pitch vertical farming is as a member of a diverse portfolio of food production investments. It is not going to replace field agriculture, especially of cash crops, but it might free up some field space by moving vegetable and insect production off the land we already have.

> 2) The sun is free and electricity isn't cheap. Putting plants indoors and then buying electricity to create light is going to be expensive compared to using the free sun. (The absurdity of putting solar panels on a roof to make electricity to beam LEDs on plants, losing 90% of the energy along the way, shouldn't be lost on anyone.)

Absurd indeed, but I think the argument that you could just use the sun has the situation backwards. Indoor and vertical farming is about reliable quality that comes from control, and to get that control without spending too much, you need extreme density to keep rent and HVAC costs low. To get extreme density you need to go vertical and stack plants, and sadly, the sun only shines in one direction instead of nicely in each aisle/shelf. You can use something like the Zipgrow tower in greenhouses with the sun only (http://www.zipgrow.com/hydroponic-farming/) , but most people can make more money by going indoors and denser. You spend the extra on electricity, you grow vertically and higher, and you have lower labour costs from less walking about. Solar is also not the only renewable energy source that could power LEDs -- much of the farm land where I grew up is speckled with wind turbines and at night when vertical farm lights are on all my area's energy is provided by nuclear.

> 3) Shipping is cheap. It may make us feel good that a salad's greens were created on a roof-top in Brooklyn, but using some of the most expensive real-estate on Earth to save a few cents on shipping is beyond economically irrational.

Brooklyn rooftops are for amateurs. The successful vertical farms are all in the peri-urban areas right next to the grocery distribution systems where land is pretty darn cheap and transport costs are super minimal. It doesn't make any sense to use the most expensive real estate on earth without a doubt, but the big boys don't.


>1) No, land is not expensive. In agricultural areas, land is quite cheap. Organizing shelves of crops vertically solves for a problem that isn't actually a problem.

No it solves the problem of not having to truck food hundreds or thousands of miles, or ship food halfway around the world.

Cities are dense, most cities have less than a week of food in them (seriously, go to a grocery at odd hours, figure out when the trucks come, you'll see aisles with nearly bare shelves where the most common products have sold out sometimes 2-3x a week).

Vertical growing allows you to place food growing operations just on the edges of population centers, or even inside population centers. You can drastically cut down how far you have to move food. You can allow fruits and vegetables to get closer to ideal maturity before harvesting instead of picking early and artificially aging with gasses at distribution centers just before the product goes to stores. We throw away something like 1/4-1/3 of food in the United States depending on what data you look at. ONE QUARTER TO ONE THIRD of all food ends up in the trash, some of that is spoilage in the prodution and retail chain and some of it is neglect by the end user. Moving your growing operations much closer to the delivery point not only helps improve quality of the food and reduce damage & spoilage in transit but drastically reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport food. The U.S. imports 50 percent of its fresh fruits, 20 percent of its fresh vegetables.

>The sun is free and electricity isn't cheap.

This is true and one current limitation to doing this. However getting people more open to nuclear, advancement of the PV industry and hopefully practical fusion in the near future will all help with this considerably.

>Shipping is cheap

Financially, not environmentally. See above... 50% of our fruit in the US is imported. That means it is picked well before being ripe, loaded into cargo containers and fumigated, shipped hundreds or many thousands of miles at which point some % is lost to spoilage or just damage, can sit at a port for days or weeks in the event of a strike, gets unloaded to truck or rail and shipped to regional distribution centers, is then either sold to factories or to retail chains and often artificially ripened via calcium carbonate or just flat out gassing it with ethylene, if going to retail it'll often get trucked to yet another distribution center before being trucked to the store and put on a shelf. That's insanely inefficient.

>In agricultural areas, land is quite cheap.

Compared to buying an acre in a downtown perhaps, farm land with decent soil, decent annual precipitation and water rights can be quite expensive as far as undeveloped land goes.


Also, enetically modified seeds and engineered fertilizer increase yield and decrease time between harvest among other efficiencies.

Seems like that’s the best place to start for improving farming. Make crops that yield more for less.


> 3) Shipping is cheap. It may make us feel good that a salad's greens were created on a roof-top in Brooklyn, but using some of the most expensive real-estate on Earth to save a few cents on shipping is beyond economically irrational.

Short-term economical considerations aren't the only considerations. Cities that can't sustain themselves through local resources are vulnerable to strategic attacks on infrastructure, as but one example.


Not even attacks on infrastructure. Cities have alarmingly little amount of food, most cities only have a few DAYS of food in grocery stores. Get a natural disaster, a decent strike, thread of a hurricane (notice how shelves get bare on the news in cities expecting hurricanes... it's not because everyone is coming and buying 10 cases of water each and 100 cans of beans and 40 gallons of milk, it's because everyone is coming and buying a few days of groceries at once. Go to groceries at random times, figure out when their trucks come, you'll be able to go 2-3x a week and see bare shelves around the time the trucks are scheduled to come).


Don't forget about the lessons of "The Bio Dome". As I recall plants like trees deprived of environmental stress like wind tend to fall over. That is one example. What concerns me, is all of these plants would be deprived of many environmental stresses. How that would effect them over time is a big unknown. Trying to induce environmental stress should be something we try to do now in insulated environments.


Maybe for expensive microgreens. Otherwise your energy costs are prohibitive.

Utah State’s Extension service did a good analysis [1]. Indoor farming energy costs only add about 30% to your cost of tomatoes, but 10,000% for wheat.

Of course this assumes you can get an acre of indoor space for the same price as an acre of cropland. And can also amportize your hardware costs over many growing seasons to drive them to zero. Probably not good assumptions.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISAKc9gpGjw&feature=youtu.be


Why Vertical Farming Won't Save the Planet[0] is a lecture by the preeminent authority in the field, Bruce Bugbee, Utah State University Department of Plants, Soils and Climate, who has studied plant growth in controlled environments for most of his career and has consulted on all NASA missions with these goals. In particular see 13m26s[1] and 37m17s[2].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISAKc9gpGjw

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISAKc9gpGjw&feature=youtu.be...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISAKc9gpGjw&feature=youtu.be...


According to [1], lettuce grown by California farmers cost 993,567,000/84,000 = $11,900 per acre.

According to this article, electricity and power costs $216,000 for a 30,000-square-foot vertical farm, or $313,000/acre.

It seems hard to make that competitive.

[1] https://www.nass.usda.gov/Quick_Stats/Ag_Overview/stateOverv...


$993,567,000 is the total value of lettuce production for the year, not the cost.


I guess it's about the same? I imagine the profit margins are not very high.


Would the yield per acre be higher because of no need for pesticides, and less loss of bad quality yields? Cos we know organic is more expensive as it yields far less than gm crops.

And would crops grow faster with 24/7 sunlight vs 12 hours?!?


I mean, the reason all of these vegetables are grown in California is basically because it is already a controlled environment. It's sunny all the time, and it doesn't get much rain, so you are just irrigating at the optimal time for the crop in question.


Yeah, but that's at a profit, so the costs are less, which makes vertical agriculture even less competitive.


Electricity will essentially be free within 30 years


Based on what?... I have always thought that nuclear fusion would make electricity almost completely free though


Based on the cost trend for renewables. You know the way you can buy computer chips for 1¢ or even less now? The same is happening with solar. https://www.resilience.org/wp-content/uploads/articles/Gener...


Electricity energy may be, but you'd still need to pay for the network, ancillary services, etc...


A biggest problem with farming these days is labor. Period. Growers (farmers) cannot manage 6000 acres of land. They rely on their crop consultants to tell them where to spray and what they need to spray. Once you start automate these tasks, e.g. crop scouting, then the grower and the consultant can use data to spray less and produce a higher quality crop.


Labor is one of the biggest advantages of these vertical farms. They are year round instead of seasonal and located near cities instead of remote areas. Temperature can be controlled and there's not the need to be constantly bent over.

With these improved conditions one would expect to rely less on immigrant labor that is subject to such harsh conditions.


If Trump gets his way, expect this 'problem' to reach critical levels, since the vast majority of it is done by undocumented people from Mexico, Central and South America.

If every illegal immigrant was thrown out tomorrow, the price of lettuce would go to $15 a head, and nearly every other type of produce not automated would also skyrocket.

Most fruit and many vegetables require a lot manual labor to grow, harvest and pack... And, Mr. Trump, white people won't do this work willingly, not at $3 an hour and not with having to live in pesticide-drenched shanty towns and having to shit in buckets or ditches and so forth..

What supports that $1.29 head of lettuce is, basically, human suffering that is only endured because things suck even worse in El Salvadore and similar places.

Earlier presidents knew this and intelligently left the borders very, very porous. And it isn't just agriculture, but many other industries too.


Similar problem in the UK with Brexit - farmers had got used to a supply of inexpensive seasonal workers mostly from eastern Europe:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/09/lack-of-...


No, you're wrong! Robots will automate everything. It doesn't matter that we can't even fully automate detecting traffic signs, with the whole might of Google behind it, but surely robots will be able to perform the super finicky manual labor tasks required by agriculture before the poorest people in a country run out of money to buy food that is now 10x more expensive.

I'm being sarcastic, I agree with you. Automation is nowhere near to what it needs to be and probably won't be for more than 10 years from now.


I still think it's quite cool. Even if it's crazy expensive right now, producing food factory-style in a very controlled environment should allow us to "software"-ize the entire process. Food as code. Which removes a big cost: thinking. Thinking is expensive.

Maybe we could grow food in a shipping container in a controlled environment. Then we can put a very precise cost on the production of food and deploy it anywhere, relying a lot less on weather and water availability. The ability to estimate costs accurately is itself very valuable.


Humans have been farming for thousands of years. A lot of the required thinking has been done and the results are beeing taught by agricultural schools. Sustainable integrated farming is possible today. Our department is in a project researching why these methods are not more widely adapted by the farmers (project in Germany).


In the UK land is reasonably expensive, but its cheaper than hiring and fitting out buildings in dense urban areas.

This is before we start costing up Electricity, fitout, soil import, water and pest control.

1) because for what ever reason they chosen to grown things in a _completely black room_ that means that you now have a significant energy bill for no real reason.

2) you have to import soil, soil is heavy, a pain to handle, and in this setup has a limited half live.

3) Labour, there is not obvious mechanisation going on here. (sure each box might be planted by a machine, but who puts it in place?)

4) water, again, the roof stops any source of free water.

5) pests, you are in a closed room monoculture, a pest like aphids if its lettuce, will run rampant, and will not attract predators. (also a problem for greenhouses)

In conclusion, this is expensive, highly carbon intensive, poorly mechanised, and largely pointless.


You can buy prime farm land in Saskatchewan for well under $2000 an acre.


And there's plenty of prime farmland in the US and Mexico, already. But the real cost center of farming is labor, not transport, and the claimed automation savings are pretty dubious. Especially given every previous vertical farming startup claimed the same gigantic savings from automation before they went under.

My head aches a little bit just reading about the comparison of "spring mix" costs. Spring mix is a product built on a big markup for the act of peeling and combining romaine lettuce and other crops. You might as well say, "Hey, a salad at a salad bar is $12, let's compete with that!" A sensible comparison would be with plain romaine lettuce or whatever.

If these startups could provide cheap, high-quality romaine lettuce or whatever at any real scale, we wouldn't be hearing the umpteenth repetition of funding hype for vertical farming, we'd be hearing about how well vertically farmed crops were selling.


If it's anything like Montana and Wyoming, I wouldn't exactly call it prime farm land -- The weather and climate make it particularly hard to consistently turn a profit, and you need to be prepared to weather several years in a row with no reasonable crop.


It's prime for Saskatchewan. Better than Montana or Wyoming land, but not a lot better. It's certainly not Kansas.

As for profits, the 2010s have been very good to Saskatchewan farmers. Decent crops and great prices, especially for lentils.


Every time I read an article about vertical farming its always leafy greens, and very occasionally strawberries and tomatoes. It doesn't seem like vertical farms can grow anything else


Sure, because those are the crops with the highest profit margin and that are hard to store and transport. You can pump grain through tubes into silos and store it for months while transporting and processing.


That makes sense


Not competitively - the added cost of indoor equipment isn't that high compared to the already-high costs of those products, whereas the competition in bulk grains production is a lot tougher.


That's where we're at in terms of the technology right now. Leafy greens harvest fast vs other plants. And are hydroponic friendly vs other plants.


Why don't they just do it without all those expensive lights and equipment, that's where all the biggest expsenses are. Just straight hydroponics with vertical farming. am i missing something?

EDIT: I mean, do it outdoors with vertical farming, either on rooftops or around offices or parks or just outside the city (better there than 6000 miles away). the vertical aspect of it would still help reduce costs since real-estate is probably the biggest limiting factor on cost.


Everyone here is saying there's not enough light. That's not actually true. The sun produces more than enough energy to grow all the plants. The issue is one of distribution. You have to distribute very particular wave lengths of light to the entirety of the structure and all the plants. This is a hard problem. Mirrors are inefficient. Fiber optics don't do exactly what you want, and plus, a lot of the light energy is unusable, because it's the wrong wavelength. Most modeling done in the space indicates that -- with current technology -- it's more efficient to capture the sunlight, convert it to electricity, and then use the electricity to produce light at the correct wavelengths.

As a whole, this means there's less energy available to irradiate the plants, but there's more energy in the wavelengths the plants can respond to, so it's more efficient.

I mean... think about it. Every time you look at a tree and see green, that is light that the plant has wasted. Hydroponic lighting is typically that deep purple, red, and blue, that plants can absorb. The goal is to make the plant leaves black, indicating that all light is being absorbed. Otherwise, you're just wasting light.


But even then it's not that simple. You need different wavelengths at different phenological stages, and what wavelengths you need depend on the crop (and variety, but you can at least control that for crops you can multiply vegetatively) you're growing, and then still you need to distribute that light to all leaves and not just the top ones. So now you need either LED's that can emit many different wave lengths, or you need many LED's that are only in use part of the time (killing your capital expenditure efficiency), or you need to move plants around to be under the right lights. And you need to move the light source to places where they can hit the leaves as much as possible, but you also need to keep the excess heat away from the plants (which is a problem even with today's highly efficient LED's - I mean, these are not like that IKEA nightlight you bought last week for $5.)


You’re right that they’re not like the ikea lamp I bought last week... they’re like the hydroponic lamps I bought two years ago for a shit ton of money.

Everything you said is right. It’s still more efficient to use the suns energy and then distribute the leds than to directly try to use the suns light. Modern hydroponic grow led controllers can adjust the wavelengths as the plants grow


The black leaf thing is interesting. Is that an oversimplification or do plants really only absorb visible light?


Plants only absorb very particular aspects of light. As far as I remember, it's only visible light, yes.

More information here: http://www.webexhibits.org/causesofcolor/7A.html

Hydroponic lighting is optimized for those particular wavelengths in the ~450 nm and ~650 nm peeks. Some plants absorb additional wavelengths, and could likely be targeted with other lights. The key though is that chlorophyll are like mitochondria -- highly preserved between species -- and they evolved to only absorb particular frequencies.


That’s really interesting, thanks for the explanation. Makes me think of tuning LED lighting the same way a mechanic might set spark timing. Obviously in reality the right lighting for a plant is known but it’s neat to be able to see the effect.


It may be well known but there are many practical considerations. It certainly requires a lot of tuning. For example, if you want to target all four peaks of absorption by cholorphyll a and b, that’s four wavelengths, but many people settle for just two due to cost. It’s all a giant optimization problem!


Research is inconclusive, but there are indications that UV light (although not required for photosynthesis) can have effects on yields and either on resistance against pests (insects/molds/fungi) or directly attack/kill/weaken those pests. So basically 'it depends', and people do their own tests and then determine if, in their specific circumstances, it is a net positive (economically) to add UV lights to their setups.

I think this is the main message. People in this thread are talking in absolutes about 'agriculture', but the reality is that there are many, many things that we don't understand well enough at the above-micro-level scale to be able to say 'you need to measure x, y and z and then we can calculate/model the optimal setup to grow something'. People are basically relying on (informed) trial and error, with feedback cycles measures in months or years, so it just takes a long long time for progress to be made - and even then, we usually don't know exactly why something works in a specific case. It's not like 'oh let's run an A/B test for the best color of our 'buy' button for a few days'.


1. Clean room farming means no need for pesticides

2. LED lights are pretty efficient, and they provide another avenue for optimization (e.g. color, intensity, timing, etc.). Whether or not those optimizations are financially effective is probably situationally dependent.

3. LED lights provide latitude independence. No idea if this is a serious reason, but I could see it being of interest to Iceland.


1. is a common misconception/myth. even if you manage to keep the bugs out, which is really hard and expensive, you still have to deal with fungii. good luck with trying to filter out those.

2. LEDs are not more efficient than double ended sodium light lamps. max efficiency seems to be around 50%. So the other half goes to heat waste which has to be managed. climate control and especially temperature control is an issue in indoor farming.


LEDs are simpler to cool, and at this scale it might be possible to use the heat for community heating.


Yes, agreed.

But also: Frontal heat radiation from HPS is working against condensation on plant tissue, helping to achieve good phytosanitary conditions.

Everything has its pros and cons.


1. OTOH, it also means there's now a need for manual pollination.


1. Leafy greens don't need pollination. It's in your best interest to avoid flowering if you want product anyone will eat.

2. Very few food plants are dioecious, and the ones that are (like asparagus and dates) are either ones where the fruit don't matter or are not likely to be grown indoors


While #1 (and your general point) is correct monoecious crops still have to be pollinated if the product is a fruit or seed. The stone fruits for instance are monoecious with male and female parts of flower on same plant unlike marijuana or dates where plants are either male of female. But this isn't leaf crops as you mention.

In some species pollination occurs generally just with wind or movement (rather than insects), for example corn where the pollen falls down from flowers above onto the silks which are the female portion (sort of a vaginal canal if you will, i.e for every corn seed there is an attached silk). Or tomatoes which have closed flower and generally always self pollinate as the flower is blown or shaken with a very small amount of cross pollination on occasion. Pretty cools setup with these type of plants, massive reproductive efficiency through mostly self pollination but a little bit of crossing occurs as the occasional foreign grain of pollen gets from another plant so there is genetic variation.


You're right.. It's not some kind of laborious process though. Having grown all these things (except corn) hydroponically, the problem is heavily overstated. For personal production, you basically have to do nothing. For commercial production, you could turn on a fan.


Yes, you seem to be missing the light supply. Plants need a lot of light to grow. In a multi-storey greenhouse, the incoming solar radiation per unit floor area is smaller than in a normal (one-storey) greenhouse. Thus the need for artificial lighting and associated costs, both for hardware and electric power.


This is very back of the napkin guesswork, but here goes:

If part of the pitch is that, more than just "vertical" farming, it is "vertical urban" farming (e.g. for logistical advantage of proximity to demand), that would imply potential proximity to other tall structures in a city. Probably taller structures. You would have concerns for consistency of sunlight. Also only the edges of the building would get it, so you would want your farm to only occupy the tiniest edge footprint of the building, but across multiple floors. That is an odd sort of lease to get from a building.

Even a new building built nearby after a year or two could destroy the efficiency of your once-carefully-selected site.

Another under-educated guess that I would be happy to hear about from someone more knowledge: I would guess that glass facades costs more than other materials.


Yes, you're missing light. The top layer of plants would get enough light, but the lower levels will only get some trickle-through, and that's assuming the hydro equipment doesn't block the light entirely. Either way, you won't have nearly enough to grow productive plants.


They didn't mention nutrient cost which is pretty high in some cases.

Also I'm working on a diy home vertical Garden system people might be interested in that is automated

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bi90BiwlHEm/?utm_source=ig_share...

But I think there's even easier ways to produce leafy greens without any power required for irrigation

https://youtu.be/pZZO1tYqcwk

Also it makes sense why Soft Bank invested in one of the vertical farms. A lot of produce is shipped into Japan. I tried to visit the Pasona HQ which was an office building that also produced vegetables but they demolished the building this year :$.


They link to a non-GDPR-walled version here:

https://civileats.com/2018/07/02/can-vertical-farms-reap-the...


Its Δ value comes entirely from water-saving, but water-saving on traditional horizontal farming is likely to yield larger food benefits than vertical farming. See, e.g. http://waterbit.com. (Disclosure: I am an investor.)

The big thing is that most farms could both use less water and concomitantly yield more crop. It's good to make plants work for it. And IME yields better tasting food, too.


I have followed a few companies in this space over the years (I believe only one of which has survived), and a few in adjacent spaces, e.g. general urban farming, not necessarily "vertical".

My enthusiasm aside, and based on some of the same concerns raised in the last paragraphs, I have to be that guy and bring up Betteridge's Law of Headlines.

EDIT: Even the company I thought had "survived" is in the process of an extreme pivot from their original focus: https://indoorharvest.com/ They used to repurpose HVAC equipment for some aspect of indoor farming, iirc.


If anyone is really interested in this hit me up on reddit via ryanmercer or hit contact over at http://www.ryanmercer.com this is a subject I'm really passionate about both for use on Earth and for investigation/use off-world.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISAKc9gpGjw "Vertical Farming Won't Save The Planet"


The title of that presentation is ‘turning fossil fuels to food’. Fossil fuels are over, finished so the video is probably not forward looking. I will watch it later anyways ...


Way to miss the forest for the trees. That talk is about how inefficient vertical farming is, _even using fossil fuels_ which are much more efficient than solar at the moment.

Where do you think most of grid power comes from right now?

Plants collect the sun's energy better than solar panels do and the sun is significantly more powerful than lamps.


Fossil fuels will continue to be heavily used for hundreds of years, although the rate of consumption growth may start to trend down.


Policy idea that will never get passed: provide a tax credit for those who eat more efficiently using some ratio of CO2 emissions over calories consumed. Add some measure for food waste in there too.


Or tax everyone else's produce to make it artificially more expensive until the one with lower CO2 footprint is cheaper

Same for packaging


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