What are hydroponic and vertical farming?
Hydroponic farming is a method of farming that utilizes water with added nutrients in place of soil. Vertical farming takes hydroponic farming and quite literally levels up, requiring significantly less acreage than traditional farming or greenhouses. And it's not just that you have higher-yield per acre, but that this method is actually able to grow crops more quickly as they are not subject to variations in weather. I know a lot of us hold our breath each season hoping a freeze didn't get to the Florida orange crop. And you can say goodbye to lettuce recalls due to an E. Coli outbreak!
What You Should Know
Location: Companies in the vertical farming industry often utilize older warehouses or recycled shipping containers for their operations and have yet an additional advantage of being able to locate closer, even at times on site, to the crop distributor, significantly reducing transportation costs and the volatility of gas prices' impact on produce prices. Given their location in urban areas, this allows the produce to be locally distributed and many companies, as well as the USDA, hope this is a step in addressing food insecurity.
Sustainability: The advancement of smart technologies allow indoor vertical farmers highly specific control over the light exposure (often LEDs), humidity, and carbon dioxide levels. We already know this farming method uses less land, but it also utilizes a mere fraction of the water needed for traditional farming and recycles this water and nutrients in its contained systems. Crops are harvested at the perfect moment and due to close proximity to the consumer, have a longer shelf-life, resulting in less food waste in the produce industry.
Health: The high level of control in these operations results in higher-nutrient produce for consumers, and the ability to extend the growing season and continue production year-round means more access to healthy food options in the "off-season". No pesticides are used or needed in vertical farming since it is indoor and safe from pests!
Industry: In 2019, there were more than 2,000 vertical farms in the U.S. According to a report by Fortune Business Insights, the global vertical farming market is project to grow by 25.2% from 2021 to 2028. They project that North America will remain dominant in this sector due to the increased demand for quality organic food products.
In May 2020, Kalera, a technology-driven vertical hydroponic farming company, announced a new growing facility in metro Atlanta. The 77,000 square foot facility began producing in April 2021, and at full capacity, will produce 10 million heads of lettuce annually. Kalera grows their lettuce without pesticides and utilizing clean room technology to protect the produce from animal and human pathogens.
Hardee Fresh is a USDA-certified organic indoor vertical farming company committed to sustainability. The company announced in March of this year, a $42 million investment in a new 200,000 square foot facility in Americus, creating 84 jobs. Hardee Fresh has been able to build a business that uses 95% less water, 97% less fertilizer, and 99% less land than traditional farming operations by utilizing innovative practices such as solar power, LED lighting, and vertical farming.
California-based Pete's, announced in April that they would be investing $18 million in opening a new indoor agriculture facility at Robins International Industrial Park in Warner Robins, their first in the eastern U.S. Providing access to fresh, local, and sustainable greens to heavily populated areas as well as regions where fresh greens may not be readily available is a top priority of Pete’s. The indoor growing facility will require 90% less land and water compared to traditional farming.
Vertical Roots opened its third indoor farm, its first in Atlanta, in June. The company's farm containers made their way on site to the Atlanta State Farmers Market on June 8, where farmers started seeding and transplanting to produce Vertical Roots lettuce within weeks. "A large part of our mission is to grow food as close to the point of consumption as possible, and this farmsite accomplishes just that," said Andrew Hare, co-founder and general manager of Vertical Roots.