Potato fields in high-rise buildings? At Agritechnica in Hanover, we will also be looking at an agricultural cultivation concept with a future – vertical farming.
Countless plants are stacked on top of each other on the shelves in exhibition hall 24 at the Agritechnica in Hanover. But instead of the sun, they are illuminated by red or blue LED lights. Whether fruit or vegetables – this method allows you to sustainably grow plants on several floors in just a few square meters – this is known as vertical farming. At this year’s agricultural technology trade fair, researchers will present the benefits of these “in-house” farms.
A big advantage of vertical farming is area efficiency. “Outside in a conventional field, 2.5 kilograms of sweet potatoes can be produced per square meter; in an in-house farming system we harvest 7.5 kilograms per square meter,” explains Finn Petersen from the University of Osnabrück. In addition, production could be carried out all year round. In the open field you have one harvest per year, in an in-house farming system you get three.
According to the Federal Information Center for Agriculture (BZL), the usable area for agriculture is becoming smaller and smaller. More and more fertile soil is being lost through monocultures, the use of chemicals, overgrazing and sealing. Added to this are the consequences of climate change: extreme weather events such as heavy rain and drought are constantly increasing and leading to lower crop yields.
Almost ten billion people in 2050
UN projections show that around 9.7 billion people will inhabit the earth in 2050 – almost two billion more than now, according to the BZL. According to forecasts, around six billion of them will live in urban centers. And all of these people need to be provided with food. According to experts, vertical farming can be a solution to this. “We need a transformation in the area of agriculture,” says Heike Susanne Mempel from Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University.
“Another advantage of in-house farming is that you only use as much water for cultivation as is actually needed,” emphasizes Petersen. This way you can save water efficiently. However, much more of it is used in the field than in a vertical farming system. “There is no system that uses as little water as the vertical farming system. Everything that goes into the environment can be recovered and added back to the water cycle,” says Mempel.
However, the energy requirements for the vertical farming system are very high, she admits. “Solutions have to be found for this.” In addition, classic fruit vegetables such as tomatoes or peppers have less potential in vertical farming in Europe: “There are already highly efficient systems in greenhouses and competition with the southern regions, so we won’t be able to move into an economically viable area with vertical farming in Europe very quickly come,” estimates the greenhouse technology expert.
400,000 visitors expected
However, in their opinion, rural fields will not disappear completely: “We will continue to need all cultural systems,” says Mempel. “We will still need the open field in the future, we will need the greenhouse and in the medium term, I am convinced, we will also see the vertical farm much more often in our agricultural landscape.”
2,811 exhibitors from 53 countries will be exhibiting their products at Agritechnica until Saturday. The organizer is expecting 400,000 visitors. The main theme of this year’s trade fair is “Green Productivity”, i.e. how more can be produced using fewer resources.