As the climate continues to change, and increasing concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases fill our air, the way plants grow will change. For example, we already know that grains, like rice, corn and wheat are sensitive to climate change and the latest UN climate report warns us increasing heat waves could decrease grain yields by a significant amount.
But grain is not the only crop slated to suffer. Recent studies demonstrate agricultural productivity has already decreased as a result of global warming, putting the future food security of nearly 10 billion people on edge.
Besides slowing our changing climate, we must adapt our agricultural systems to these new conditions. We already know there is a definable gap between the amount of food we must produce and the amount of people we need to feed in the next thirty years.
With a changing climate, shrinking resources and a growing population, how can we possibly meet the nutritional needs of 10 billion people and get rid of this gap?
The World Resources Institute (WRI) has answered this question for us. What’s remarkable is that indoor vertical farming, especially as produced with cutting edge technology like we do at Urban Health Farms, meets nine out of 22 goals to achieve this enormous task.
Here, we detail how our technology can meet these goals.
1. Reduce food loss and waste
Food waste, nearly a global epidemic in itself, occurs at every juncture of the food chain; at a minimum we need to reduce food waste by 25 percent in the coming years. Because produce from indoor vertical farms is grown, harvested and packaged in uninterrupted cold-chains near urban populations, the industry doesn’t suffer from food recalls and produce reaches consumers without any loss due to spoilage or transportation.
2. Shift to healthier, more sustainable diets
As our global population becomes more prosperous and productive, consumption of meat is forecasted to increase by 88 percent. Because industrially-produced meat is resource-intensive, the WRI proposes cutting meat consumption and improving the availability and marketability of plant-based foods.
Produce from indoor vertical farms is accessible for consumption year-round, with no shortfalls due to seasonality, pests or environmental effects. Produce is also fresher and is more nutritionally-dense than produce from open-field agriculture.
3. Improve soil and water management
As the foundation of healthy crops and sustainable farming, improving the quality of degraded soils in agricultural regions around the world is the focus of this goal. Lessening pressure on lands traditionally devoted to agriculture is something indoor vertical farming can achieve. Since Urban Health Farms cultivates hydroponics, and our crops are grown without soil, our production methods bypass this problem and allows current agricultural fields to recover.
4. Plant existing cropland more frequently
Increasing ‘double cropping’ – the agricultural method of planting two crops in any given field in the same year – will, undoubtedly, boost food production. The purpose of this goal is to get more food production from the same square meterage by increasing the intensity of cropping, and shrinking the amount of land we’re forecasted to need to feed 10 billion people. Indoor vertical farming can take this goal a step further. Urban Health Farms can multiply food production by 20-30 times for the same square meterage compared to traditional open field agriculture.
5.Link productivity gains with protection of natural ecosystems
While it’s clear we need to increase our efficiency and productivity of agriculture, we also need to focus efforts on preserving natural habitats and to “ensure that infrastructure investments do not come at the expense of ecosystems.” Since indoor vertical farming can produce the same amount of crops with 90 percent less land, and the farms can be placed on land unsuitable for agriculture, we can help fragile ecosystems recover, allow topsoil to replenish and support sustainable agriculture.
6. Limit inevitable cropland expansion to lands with low environmental opportunity costs
Since the gap between what we’re growing and what we need to grow is quite big, experts advise us to utilise land with low environmental opportunities. Because indoor vertical farms can be built on lands unsuitable for agriculture, or produced in current vacant buildings retrofitted to meet our needs, leaving high-value lands available for other uses is a viable option.
7. Reforest agricultural lands with little intensification potential
This goal urges us to abandon agricultural lands that are unproductive, or were once important habitats. Indoor vertical farming does not expand into lands better suited to growing traditional open-field crops, but instead can produce crops on shorter cycles and offer predictable stable yields, regardless of the condition of the land.
8. Conserve and restore peatlands
Globally, we have drained 26 million hectares of peatland for agricultural purposes, a natural environment that is highly efficient at absorbing greenhouse gas emissions. Like many of these goals, indoor vertical farming can assist with this by allowing current agricultural fields to return to their natural state, while preserving or even increasing, crop production.
9. Increase agricultural energy efficiency and shift to non-fossil energy sources
Twenty-four percent of all emissions from agriculture is from using fossil-fuel relient equipment. Switching to low-carbon energy sources or renewable energy sources would completely eradicate that number. Urban Health Farms has facilities producing multiple tonnes of produce every day using sustainable technologies like renewable energy sources, water recycling systems and local sustainability solutions, freeing us from issues related to fossil fuels.