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Vertical Farming for the Future

Posted by Sarah Federman, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, Office of the Chief Scientist and Paul M. Zankowski, Senior Advisor for Plant Health and Production and Plant Products, Office of the Chief Scientist in Research and Science
Aug 14, 2018
Indoor vertical farming
Indoor and vertical farming may be part of the solution to rising demands for food and limited natural resources. Photo credit: Oasis Biotech

Imagine walking into your local grocery story on a frigid January day to pick up freshly harvested lettuce, fragrant basil, juicy sweet strawberries, and ripe red tomatoes – all of which were harvested at a local farm only hours before you’d arrived. You might be imagining buying that fresh produce from vertical farms where farmers can grow indoors year-round by controlling light, temperature, water, and oftentimes carbon dioxide levels as well. Generally, fresh produce grown in vertical farms travels only a few miles to reach grocery store shelves compared to conventional produce, which can travel thousands of miles by truck or plane.

Beyond providing fresh local produce, vertical agriculture could help increase food production and expand agricultural operations as the world’s population is projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. And by that same year, two out of every three people are expected to live in urban areas. Producing fresh greens and vegetables close to these growing urban populations could help meet growing global food demands in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way by reducing distribution chains to offer lower emissions, providing higher-nutrient produce, and drastically reducing water usage and runoff.

Recently, USDA and the Department of Energy held a stakeholder workshop focused on vertical agriculture and sustainable urban ecosystems. At this workshop, field experts shared thought-provoking presentations followed by small group discussions focusing on areas such as plant breeding, pest management, and engineering. Workshop attendees from public and private sectors worked together to identify the challenges, needs, and opportunities for vertical farming. A report on this workshop will be released to help inform Departmental strategic planning efforts for internal research priorities at USDA and external funding opportunities for stakeholders and researchers.

We’re excited about the potential opportunities vertical agriculture presents to address food security. That’s why USDA already has some of these funding and research opportunities in place. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture has funding opportunities (PDF, 1.22 MB) that could support future vertical agriculture conferences and research. Similarly, the Agricultural Research Service is working on a project to increase U.S. tomato production and quality in greenhouses and other protected-environments. We look forward to continuing our partnership with our customers, both internal and external.

Category/Topic: Research and Science

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Jim Pantaleo
Aug 14, 2018

Many thanks to the USDA and DOE for bringing the nascent indoor vertical farming industry into the light....LED lights, liquid nutrients, limited water and space requirements and locally-grown produce are all part of the quest to supplement modern agriculture (and its resource-heavy requirements).

Paul E. Hadinger
Aug 15, 2018

Great article on vertical farming. Would also be great to have more articles on this and especially as they might pertain to small operations, family operations and neighborhood operations using easily-constructed greenhouses. It would also be good to have access to grant opportunities along these lines.

Amitkumar Patel
Aug 19, 2018

It's very useful to me thank you very much for information vertical farming
Amit Patel

Nov 06, 2018

yeh nah terrible idea

Leah Hammond
Jan 17, 2019

Vertical farming is in the new era of agriculture. Things will be much more efficient and not nearly as wasteful. This is a fantastic article and vertical farming should continue to be promoted nation wide.

Melanie Bennett
Mar 06, 2019

What would be the definition for Vertical Farming?
What does Vertical Farming actually do? And why is it helpful now?

Ben Weaver
Mar 07, 2019

@Melanie Bennett - thanks for your question. Vertical farming is a form of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) that consists of fully insulated indoor operations, producing crops on multiple levels solely using electrical lighting. Vertical farms, and CEA operations more broadly, are advertised as solutions to many environmental issues in food production in part because they are protected from the outside environment, and can be constructed in even the most extreme environments. The USDA Office of the Chief Scientist recently published a workshop report that contains more information about the potential benefits of vertical farming and CEA, as well as future areas for research and development to consider in this technology space. To learn more, you may view the Research and Development Potentials Indoor Agriculture and Sustainable Urban Ecosystems workshop report (PDF, 435 KB).

Brian Damron
Aug 17, 2019

This would be a great resource for Harvesters. Help feed the poor healthier foods. Way to go USDA!

Kim A. Brogden
Sep 26, 2019

Can you send me the names of researchers at USDA, ARS who are working on LED-light enhanced vertical farming? And their contact information including website? Thank you.

Best regards,
Kim A. Brogden

Cael Collins
Oct 21, 2019

Hi, I'm a student at Manson Northwest Webster,
I would like to know what you do with vertical farming and how it works.
I'm doing a research project on how it works and the effects it has on the environment.