Farming, most know how much we rely on it for our survival. But what people don’t realise is one of the world’s few truly essential industries is in crisis.
Farming, it’s one of those topics everybody knows something about. At a bare minimum, most know how much we rely on it for our survival. But what most people don’t realise is that one of the world’s few truly essential industries is in crisis. According to The World Bank, the amount of land used for agriculture was 36.9%, a decline from the height of 38.9% in 1989.
The decline in land used for agriculture can be attributed to three main factors. The first is the sapping of nutrients from the soil. This is due to poor agricultural practices, including not letting the land recover, harsh chemicals, depletion of the water table and climate change.
The second is our world’s ever increasing population and subsequent urbanisation. According to the United Nations, 55% of the world’s population lived in cities in 2018. Another way to explain it is, in 1950 751m people lived in cities, that number is now 4.2b. By 2050, the United Nations expects this proportion to increase to 68% with growth based around Asia and Africa. To put this in perspective, the world’s population has grown 204% since 1950, but the number of people living in cities has increased 459%.
The third is positive, the top 11 crops have seen their yields per hectare increase by a median of 104% between 1961 and 2018. Basically this means the amount of crops generated by the same amount of land has increased 104%. But with our growing population requiring an estimated 50-60% increase in global agriculture production by 2050, something else needs to be done.
Luckily a few bright minds seemed to have come up with a unique solution; vertical farming. Unlike classical farming, vertical farming takes place indoors, and because of the purely artificial conditions, resource use is significantly less, while yields per hectare are massive. For example, Danish start-up Nordic Harvest is creating a 75,000sqm² warehouse that will grow 1,000 tonnes of food per year. Not only are these yields unheard of in classical farming, but the farm also grows year round as its environment is completely artificial. Plants are harvested approximately 15 times a year versus two with traditional farming. Additionally, the company claims it is able to use 250x less water than traditional farming. Water is becoming increasingly scarce, so the value proposition of vertical farming from a water perspective alone will become increasingly worthwhile. With available land for farming declining, vertical farming could be the answer for a growing population.