I’ve chosen “Environmental Talks” as my cause for Q1 2021.
You can read the other posts in this series, too:
Skyfarming is an innovative method where crops are grown inside climate-controlled, energy-efficient and self-sustaining multi-storey buildings. This reduces the pressure on forests to be converted to agricultural land and feeds the rising demand for staple food grains.
The initiative has 5 major objectives:
1) Crop production throughout the year in optimal conditions irrespective of seasonal fluctuations
2) Preservation of the environment through less pesticide use, efficient water cycling, no runoff into water bodies and less pressure to convert forests into agricultural land
3) Reduction in “food miles” by centering production in high-demand areas
4) Recycling of water, nutrients and energy, and use of by-products
5) Continuous production of food grains
Why do we need skyfarming?
Global food prices rose to a six-year high in December 2020 and are expected to continue to rise through 2021, according to UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization.
Currently, the world’s population is growing at a rate of 1.1% per year. From 1 billion people in 1800, the population has increased to 7.8 billion in 2020.
Population growth along with overconsumption is causing climate changes and loss of biodiversity, both of which affect crop production.
The gains from the Green Revolution have levelled off and now we need self-sustaining innovations in crop production to keep feeding our population.
Origins of skyfarming
You’ll be surprised to know that the idea of skyfarming was conceived during the time the Green Revolution started.
- In 1966, Othmar Ruthner wrote a patent titled “Apparatus for the Artificial Cultivation of Plants” to describe how plants could be grown in a 3D space without being affected by climatic changes or seasons.
- Riethus and Bau performed trials for vegetable production in a 13-meter-high greenhouse for four years. In 1970, they concluded that it wasn’t possible to grow vegetables in a multi-storey greenhouse in temperate regions because the summers are too hot and the winters are too dark.
- Dr. Dickson Despommier developed his idea of vertical farms starting in 1999 over a ten-year period. (His research can be found at verticalfarm.com)
- In 2008, the idea of “vertical farming” was discussed by Fischetti with a focus on architectural design rather than crop production technology.
What makes skyfarming effective?
- Efficiency strategy – it uses less resource per unit of crop production
- Plants are shifted to optimal conditions at each growth stage to reduce the need for energy and materials
- Nutrient-rich mist — to supply water and nutrients used instead of using rooting substrate or hydroponics
- Minimal nutrient, water and land requirements – as compared to conventional land agriculture
- Resistant to climate changes – crops are protected from the vagaries of the climate by keeping in controlled conditions
It is estimated that skyfarming could offer a 200-fold increase in crop production as compared to average global yield.
How is a skyfarm designed?
Different architects interpret skyfarming in different ways. Usually, it requires a combination of the following techniques:
- grow light
Dr. Despommier had proposed a radical idea to convert city skyscrapers into self-sustaining farms by using hydroponics, using energy from a process that converts sewage to electricity and growing food where the demand for it is high.
In this way, the production of greenhouse gases could be lowered (as less land is used) and fewer landfills would be required.
However, the formidable cost of setting up a skyfarm has proved to be a stumbling block.
One of the skyfarms designed by Rolf Mohr is shown below:
1) Solar panel – to drive the interior cooling system
2) Wind spire – an alternative to solar energy
3) Glass panels – coated with titanium oxide to collect pollutants and prevent rain from beading, thus blocking light
4) Control room – 24×7 crop cultivation throughout the year is controlled from here
5) Architecture – A circular structure saves space and allows more light to enter
6) Crops – fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, poultry, pigs can be grown
Take a look at this video where a car park in Melbourne was converted into an urban farm:
A project called Urban Skyfarm was conceptualized in Seoul, Korea:
Right now, the cost of skyfarming may be prohibitive but with technological advancements and greater interest from rich countries, it may become common.
- Germer J, Sauerborn J, Asch F, de Boer J, Schreiber J, Weber G, Muller J. 2011. Skyfarming an ecological innovation to enhance global food security. Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit 6(2):237-251
Talk to Me
Have you heard of skyfarming or vertical farming?
Do you think this crop production innovation will take off?