While vertical farms are proliferating in urban centres across the developed world, the vast majority of these are used to grow vegetables – principally, salad greens.
To date, few studies have explored at how these facilities could be used to grow staple crops.
Bucking the trend, scientists at the University of Florida recently used a simulation tool to compare the likely yields of field-grown wheat with those of wheat grown hydroponically under LEDs, in stacked layers, in vertical farms housed in shipping containers, tunnels and warehouses.
The researchers found that a 10-floor vertical farm occupying one hectare of ground space and operating under optimal conditions could, potentially, generate wheat yielding about 600 times more grain than the average amount that would be produced on the equivalent amount of farmland. When they entered values simulating conditions in a 100-floor vertical farm, the model forecast a yield 6,000 times more than that of a one-hectare wheat field.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates the potential to grow exponentially more wheat in a vertical farm than would be possible on the same amount of land outdoors.
Currently, a major barrier to commercialisation is the energy cost associated with powering indoor farming facilities – however, given the environmental benefits and food-security potential of this farming method, government subsidies might help offset these costs until reliable renewable energy becomes widely available and affordable.
Read the full story in Modern Farmer.