Agribusiness, the high-tech industry concerned with agricultural produce and services required in farming, has been faced with a problem for years: how to effectively feed the increasing number of people around the globe in the future. The problem lies in the fact that a greater population of people mean the need for more food to eat and places to live, which in turn requires more raw materials and arable farmland. You don’t have to be a mathematician or agribusiness genius to realize that these needs will eventually dovetail and create a huge problem, given Earth’s limited and ever-decreasing amount of usable land. However, companies like PlantLab aim to solve this problem with a new process—vertical farming.
Vertical farming has been an agricultural concept since 1915 but hasn’t entered the mainstream until recently. Essentially, vertical farming draws inspiration from skyscrapers to create stackable greenhouses, which occupy less space than traditional farms. Modern vertical farms, like those designed by PlantLab, also aim to make farms more efficient in nearly every way.
In 2013, PlantLab began the construction of a $22 million, 200,000 square foot headquarters, including multiple vertical farms called plant production units (PPUs) and research units. According to PlantLab, these PPUs will occupy the space of a city block and are only a few stories tall while still producing the same volume of high-quality produce as a large farm and using fewer resources. These units are rather cheap, costing $100 million in sum, which includes purchasing the required land and constructing a 500,000 square foot PPU with ten growing levels. To operate a PPU of this size, it is estimated to require a complement of 200 people.
Although this sounds expensive, the results are very impressive. The 500,000 square foot PPU would supply 50,000 people with consistent, high-quality produce including herbs, vegetables, and berries for at least ten years. The result is a cost per person of $2,000, which is phenomenal when compared to the US average of $8,000 per person for annual health care costs.
PlantLab also boasts that there are many benefits to producing food indoors and onsite. Being indoors, a PPU’s water supply does not evaporate or runoff, which means a PPU needs 10% the water of a traditional farm. Also, farms located indoors would not require pesticides and would be protected from weather-related complications. As a result, farming would no longer be dependent on specific climates and PPUs could thrive in any environment; community-dedicated PPUs would greatly reduce the amount of transportation and related food waste—also any kind of fruit or vegetable could be produced year-round and anywhere.
This promising technology could have very positive effects on society at large and the health of our planet. Hopefully PlantLab’s PPUs are the first of many green innovations to come!
For more information about PlantLab and vertical farming, click here.