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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
Oct 25, 2021
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 store 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.

Dec 01, 2019

YouTube & Ted Talks have at least 8 years worth of content on indoor & outdoor hydroponics & vertical growing.

Some use mist only rather than the typical water pump.

Some even use fish for nutrition

Brother Loren Willard Beaudry M.M.
Dec 09, 2019

I am an American missioner working in Mwanza, Tanzania. I am working with a group of local Brothers who are living off their land. The soil is poor and they get very little rain. Water is a big problem. I am very interested in learning more about 'Vertical Farming'. I plan to return to the USA in July, 2020. Where is there a project that is dealing with 'Vertical Farming' that I could visit?

Ben Weaver
Dec 11, 2019

@Brother Loren Willard Beaudry M.M. - thank you for your comment. There are several vertical farms usually near urban centers that can provide public tours. You should be able to locate facilities that can provide tours by conducting a “vertical farming” internet search of a specific U.S. city.

Avery Naipohn
Dec 10, 2019

Hello! I am a current senior in high school in Andover, KS. My AP Environmental Science class is researching ways to innovate the farming industry, especially the farms near our city. Our final project consists of finding a way to increase food supply without maintaining the status quo strategies while harming neither the economy, nor the environment. How soon do you believe that vertical farming could take place in rural Kansas? Do you believe that this method would be adequate in solving the future lack of food due to a projected increase of population by 2050?

Ben Weaver
Dec 11, 2019

@Avery Naipohn - thank you for your comment. Vertical farming is taking place everywhere, but is most concentrated in urban centers. Variations of Controlled Environment Agriculture range from high tunnels, heated or unheated greenhouses, and indoor farming with no outside sunlight. Indoor farming can range in size from large vertical multilayered to small shipping containers configured with lighting and growing facilities. Vertical farming has the potential to supplement food provided by existing agriculture practices and will continue to be a valuable resource as population increases. For more information, please see the report, Research and Development Potentials in Indoor Agriculture and Sustainable Urban Ecosystems (PDF, 414 KB), resulting from the joint U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy workshop held in Washington D.C., June 27-28, 2018.

Caleb Youngstedt
Feb 17, 2020

can vertical farming be done on a small scale local level? can an average person put a super small scale vertical farm in their basement and collect food at an efficient rate?

Jack Mehoff
Mar 27, 2020

Vertical farming is a good idea, but have we thought about planting them in the ground first?!?

May 21, 2020

Would love to see more resources to possible grants in this space.

jose bernabe velasco
Sep 04, 2020

The way he says about the greenhouse is very interesting because if in the future they will be able to help us with our food consumption and make the population maintain itself well

Tamara Palmer
Jan 26, 2021

I live near one of these operations. It has changed a natural unpopulated area into a glowing enormous light bulb. The glow has changed the normal light of the area. What was once country and naturally dark, and populated with a variety of natural plants and animals, is now a huge disturbing unhealthy intrusion.

Leon H Allen Jr
Jul 26, 2021

Efficiency in green crop production involves the greatest light capture and utilization for photosynthesis per unit horizontal area with the minimum input of resources. In the field, sunlight is free and air circulation and transport (for supplying free CO2, removal of transpired water, and heat dispersal/climate control, as such) is free. In most cases, water (as rainfall) is free. Literally, all of the environmental services for growing green plants are free.
Vertical farming is one type of green plant production in controlled environments that is extremely costly in terms of resource inputs for maintaining a livable environment for plants.

Aug 11, 2021

Vertical farming is an interesting and appealing solution to food shortage in the world.
The improved technological advancements and rise of machine learning would provide great help on improving the indoor quality of the food produced

Aug 13, 2021


Sep 15, 2021

Brilliant resourcefulness and creativity in method to multiply food for the world!

Marianne Fields
Sep 16, 2021

The modern innovations since 1942 are quite interesting. I would visit my great uncle's farm and spend a week around 1955 when I was a 10 yr. old. Things on the farm were more like those shown for 1942. Keeping the cows cooler and more comfortable to produce more milk is genius. The most unique and the one showing tremendous potential is vertical farming-- if the energy resources are not too expensive to maintain ideal temperature, light, and hydration systems.

Rob Carrafa
Oct 17, 2021

How is the cost of Vertical Farming projected to compare to the price of conventional produce at the check stand? The quality of product available at a farmer's market is usually superior to what you find at the grocery store. But the price is usually higher, as well. Will the average customer want to pay more?

Khiar Merzouk
Oct 17, 2021

This concept of vertical farming will permit:
1. The exploitation of small parcels close to cities that are not big enough to be economical using the conventional approach.
2. Containment of various fertilizers that can be recycled
3. Keeping mosquitos out, therefore less spraying
4. Better management of plant diseases.
5. Proximity to customers
If well designed to take advantage of natural light, and minimize the use of additional energy, it can be economically advantageous. Need to determine the optimum size/shape for specific locations, best plants to start with (besides marijuana), and put some numbers together.

Alain Martineau
Oct 24, 2021

I like this article. Sorry I want to point out a typo, story on the first line instead of store.

Again, thanks for the article.

Ben Weaver
Oct 25, 2021

@Alain Martineau - thank you for reaching out to us. We have corrected the word within the blog.

Alec Heesacker
Nov 08, 2021

Nice! That was what I had wanted to hear about our Future of Agriculture!