Can Vertical Farming Reduce Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
Vertical farming techniques minimize emissions that occur due to: food waste, transportation, chemical pesticides, land use, and more.
As the climate crisis has begun to affect communities throughout the world and will worsen over time, industries are seeking ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Among the various sectors, the agricultural sector stands out as one of the most environmentally intensive industries. According to the UN”s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG’s) come from food. These emissions happen throughout various stages of the process: from land use to agricultural methods, supply chain, and at the consumer stage.
In response to this, organizations, farmers, innovators, and communities have been working towards new sustainable methods of producing food.
Innovative agricultural practices such as controlled-environment agriculture, indoor farming, vertical farming, rooftop farming, and other urban farming techniques seek to solve issues of waste, inefficiencies, and inaccessibility, and work towards increasing food security by making healthy and fresh food available while minimizing many of the environmental problems surrounding conventional agriculture.
Vertical farming is a growing trend within the framework of urban farming, sustainable agriculture, and controlled-environment agriculture as it places focus on increasing yield while using minimal resources.
Vertical growing systems can therefore minimize greenhouse gas emissions throughout the various stages of the food supply chain.
To understand this, let us dive deeper into the carbon footprint of our current traditional agriculture system.
Traditional field-grown agriculture requires massive swaths of land to grow to produce. In fact, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture takes up approximately 5 billion hectares or 38% of the earth’s surface area!
This land is often made available through environmentally degrading practices such as deforestation, mangrove destruction, and other methods that clear-cut and destroy natural resources. Intense cultivation of the soil also releases CO2 emissions within this process.
Vertical farming, on the other hand, doesn’t require tilling the soil, and uses space in a hyper-efficient way, maximizing each square of food to grow approximately 6 times more yield, which prevents deforestation and therefore also increases biodiversity.
At the agricultural production level, indoor farming methods such as vertical farming minimize GHG emissions that are associated with chemical pesticides, such as Co2, methane, and nitrous oxide. As food grows indoors in controlled conditions, pests do not need to be managed with the harsh environmentally hazardous chemicals that outdoor farming requires.
At the supply chain level, vertical farms that are on-site, such as Vertical Field’s, cut out emissions from transportation. According to a study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, lettuce in the United States travels on average approximately 2,055 miles to reach the consumer.
By growing precise quantities of produce in controlled conditions, vertical farming also reduces methane emissions that are released as a result of food waste. According to the UN’s World Food Programme, food loss and waste accounts for approximately 3 billion tons of GHG’s a year! In fact, 28% of the world’s arable land produces food that is wasted; a morose quantity in light of the global crisis surrounding food security. Methods such as on-site farming and controlled-environment agriculture, prevent food waste that occurs due to weather conditions, pests, rot, poor harvest techniques, transportation, and poor storage. With on-site farming, consumers also purchase produce that is fresher than distant field-grown farms, and therefore produce will have a longer shelf-life- reducing food losses that occur post-retail.
The field of vertical farming is constantly developing and expanding its efficiency and sustainability; in fact, according to Deloitte, is expected to grow to a $10 billion industry by 2025. As companies seek to improve, many are looking to integrate their technologies with the most up-to-date clean energy technologies, water technologies, and more. Vertical Field, for example, is working on ways to enhance its offer as a closed-loop system that can independently produce water, energy, and food without external resources.
As climate change brings about new challenges, agricultural techniques must adapt to meet the social and environmental needs of a new era, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the pace and intensity of climate upheaval. Urban farming methods such as vertical farming and other indoor farming methods are an example of some of the ways that agriculture technology can reduce emissions and increase food security simultaneously.