With the ever-growing population worldwide, it is not surprising that the demand for food production is also rising. Studies have shown that global food production will need to increase by up to 70% over the next thirty years. With that in mind, this creates a significant issue with traditional farming methods since temperature spikes and more natural disasters are making it difficult to determine how well crops and agriculture can flourish.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 has also created harsh seasons for farmers since quarantines, shutdowns, and border closings have made halts in trades and supply. There are even areas limiting access to food and provisions for people if they have been on the high end of the virus spectrum. In addition, farmers have had to file for bankruptcy since they could not sustain the losses.
So, what steps and adaptations can farmers take to ensure that crops don’t die in the changing climates, use less water, and are overall more sustainable for food production?
Some startups grow their produce and crops indoors since the conditions surrounding production can be more controlled and managed. While this may seem a little unorthodox for farming in general, it could very well be the answer that everyone is looking for for the future of agriculture.
What is Indoor Farming?
If you have watched the movie starring Matt Damon entitled The Martian, you have already been shown a glimpse into what indoor farming looks like – he created a greenhouse out of the climate to efficiently grow potatoes. Creating a greenhouse or growing lights in an indoor environment allows crops to grow with the correct mix of lighting, water, and nutrients.
There has been an advance across the field of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) over decades to explore and research for startups to do production across multiple locations. This action and ability to create produce in more urban areas bring the food closer to those purchasing it, keeping it fresher and lasting longer. In addition, the greenhouses themselves will also be able to house numerous crops in one place without waiting across seasons for specific planting.
What Can Indoor Farming Provide?
While the controlled environment is one great advantage, another would be that all of the fruits and vegetables being maintained inside also goes untainted by any pesticides or other contaminants since there is no concern for insects or wildlife destroying the crops.
People will not have to worry about contamination from water run-off, and it also helps to increase the production of foods that are non-GMO (genetically engineered). LED lights are used to provide the proper amount of light necessary as well as minimizing energy usage. However, there are some greenhouses that use glass and natural sunlight for photosynthesis.
With the CEA, there is also potential for providing more jobs that are less stressful than traditional farming. For example, farming outdoors sometimes creates more worry with unpredictable weather conditions, where farmers are working outside in the hot sunshine or freezing cold.
Year-Round Production and Sustainability
The jobs will also be available for work year-round rather than seasonal, which provides more stability for people. Climate change has a massive effect on the growing cycles of crops, but greenhouses and vertical farming will help in conserving water while keeping crops from drying out or dying from the weather changes.
Since indoor farms can be maintained at premium climates for growing crops, they have the potential to slow down climate change by their sustainability since they will create fewer emissions. However, this transformation in agriculture makes a significant impact on the environment.
Water conservation is a major benefit since, with hotter climates, droughts, and wildfires popping up more frequently, there is a much greater demand for people to conserve their water supply. There are sensor systems within the indoor farms that ensure every plant gets the exact amount of water, recycled excess water.
For example, the company Moleaer aids indoor farms. They use oxygen transfer technology, allowing more than 100 indoor farms to connect the irrigation systems to generators that bring gas to the plant roots and chemical-free water. This process creates a cost-effective solution to bring up the oxygen within the water and promote root development.
Worth the Cost
While the cost for indoor farming is higher, the operation is well worth the investment. Indoor farms work collaboratively together and share information so that each can meet the needs of our growing population. Indoor farms are not meant to disrupt how traditional farming is done but rather to help provide a broader range of those demanding fresh produce.
While the field will always be necessary for plants, trees, and provisions for animals and insects, growing produce indoors will ultimately play a more prominent role in sustainable food production for the future. Consumers recognize that their wants are being met with reliability, high-quality foods, and consistency of those foods.
Overall, the reduction of emissions and water conservation and no longer needing pesticides and efficiently producing fresher foods, will be an excellent service in agriculture all over the world. The future looks brighter with indoor farming methods to support traditional farming and create a safe way for foods to continue to grow and adapt across these unpredictable weather patterns.