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.
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.
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?
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?
Petroleum use by industry sector:
How energy is used in agriculture (Sweden):
How agriculture energy use contributes to the atmosphere:
(I am not an expert in this field.)
Edit: an adjective form
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
If this is possible at all, it could be an important base technology for a very wide range of new application fields.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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 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.
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.
I see you've never gardened, or even had a house plant.
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.
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.
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.
But there's only so many leafy greens you can grow before you saturate 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.
What do you mean by this? The fatness epidemic hardly suggests our appetites are weak... unless you mean appetite specifically for leafy greens...
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.
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.
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.
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.
Market pricing for water could solve all of the problems with water too.
To the point that strains are picked and/or modified based on their ability to withstand long trips.
Wouldn't this also be true for vertical farming?
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?
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.
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.
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.
So... most of humanity on a more-or-less vegan diet.
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...
So you take more land area for solar, why wouldnt you just plant crops on that land area instead...
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.
"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.
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.
Amish cannot afford land because they suck at farming. They lack education and intentionally do not use modern farming techniques.
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.
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).
Tons of Midwestern agriculture data available here:
This also includes links to agriculture data in other areas of the US.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
Both land use  and shipping  contribute significant fractions of our society's carbon budget.
That said, I'm not so sure about 2-story, LED-lit warehouses for growing food either...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Has it? I thought that the worst thing for the environment was subsistence farming.
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.
With minor variations it's still practiced in parts of Europe, to this day :)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Luckily, there is some movement to move to cleaner fuels instead , but that is slow progress.
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.
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 .
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.
 To pick one reasonably creditble data source, see:
which ends with this graph:
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.
I'm not sure how it breaks out for air cargo (probably not great), but ocean and rail are both more efficient than trucks.
It's like saying cars produce less emissions than bikes by including the manufacturing costs of the bike but not the car.
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?
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).
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?
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).
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 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.
1-2% of best plants vs 22% of best commercial panels! :)
LEDs can select the most favorable wavelengths however so maybe it can approach parity again.
But while you are at it, you could directly to synthetic food... Hydrogen, methane, formaldehyde, sugars.
You would however be also limited with efficiency of the lamps.
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...
Just watch The Jetsons :)
(I'm working in the field of agricultural economics)
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.
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.
Seems like that’s the best place to start for improving farming. Make crops that yield more for less.
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.
Utah State’s Extension service did a good analysis . 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.
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.
And would crops grow faster with 24/7 sunlight vs 12 hours?!?
With these improved conditions one would expect to rely less on immigrant labor that is subject to such harsh conditions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As for profits, the 2010s have been very good to Saskatchewan farmers. Decent crops and great prices, especially for lentils.
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.
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.
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
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Also I'm working on a diy home vertical Garden system people might be interested in that is automated
But I think there's even easier ways to produce leafy greens without any power required for irrigation
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 :$.
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.
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.
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.
Same for packaging