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Vertical farming is growing up

3.5 min read

Whether “farm to table” or “feed the world,” producers are tasked with finding solutions. Innovation continues to be key in agriculture, enabling farmers to close the gap when faced with challenges around labour, energy costs, market access, and numerous other issues impacting their success.  

When producing fruits and vegetables, weather and climate concerns also present difficulties, potentially impacting an entire growing season or crop; farmers have been working on ways to produce larger volumes in a controlled environment; welcome vertical farming.

What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming consists of various methods to produce crops in a controlled environment in vertically stacked layers. High-density production of produce grown under optimum conditions for year-round, continued production utilizing minimal land base and soilless growing methods.  

There is no single method to farming vertically as innovators have adopted different approaches to maximizing production depending on the produce being grown. Aquaponic systems, hydroponics, growing media and aeroponics are common systems utilized in vertical farming. In Canada, hydroponics is the most used method; however, an increase in the use of aeroponics systems is emerging.    

What does vertical farming look like? 

An image of vertical farming operation
An image of vertical farming operation

Building-based and container-based vertical farms present opportunities on different scales, from smaller individual and community-based to large commercialized international distributions.   

Vertical farms can be found in various structures, such as greenhouses, warehouses, and other repurposed buildings, such as converting several floors of an office building to a vertical indoor farming start-up.  

Container farms contribute 50% of the market through structure methods providing mobile and compact encapsulated growing environments that can be utilized even in colder climates. Northern communities can utilize container farms and produce enough fresh greens for their communities year-round.  

An image of a container farm operation
An image of a container farm operation

Farmers are being creative and, in turn, are opening opportunities to grow anywhere, such as rooftops in densely populated urban areas, cold climates, remote areas, or, on a more industrial scale, strategically set along transportation routes for improved access to markets.  

The need for optimum climate conditions and soil classifications are no longer the key drivers when establishing a farm to grow produce.  

In Canada, we can grow leafy greens on the South Coast of British Columbia to be shared globally or Churchill Manitoba for the local community.  

Why vertical farming? 

Vertical farming emerged in 1999, although we haven’t heard much about it until recently, in 2017 – 2019. The increased demand for food worldwide, urbanization trends, population growth, and sustainability spurred its popularity.  

The benefits of vertical farming on the environment are evident in using 90-95% less water and 98% less land base to produce equivalent food volume than traditional inground farming and, simultaneously, not causing soil degradation as it doesn’t rely on topsoil for growing crops.  

Additional benefits include producing year-round, minimizing labour costs, and eliminating the need for chemicals and pesticides.    

Keep in mind that there are also challenges that need to be addressed. Vertical farms are very energy dependent, contributing to the high start-up and operational costs of farming in an indoor controlled environment.  

Vertical farming market  

The global vertical farming market 2022 was reported at $4.8 billion (USD) and is expected to reach $33 billion (USD) by 2030.   

According to Bonafide Research, the vertical farming market in Canada is expected to grow 20.93% by 2027. The drivers leading to this growth include increased food demand, shifting mindsets towards organic foods, and year-round high production.  

Canada is expected to grow at a rate of 6.61% from an estimated market size of $850 million (USD) in 2021 to $1.3 billion (USD) in 2028.  

Challenges may currently limit profitability; however, the potential opportunities brought about by innovation and new technologies are exciting and anticipated to improve the economic outlook for farmers willing to invest in vertical farming.  

Article by:

Sandra Behm, P. App, AACI 
Sr. Appraiser