Is Vertical Farming the Future of Agriculture?

Gilles Berdugo
5 min readNov 9, 2020


Even with the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping across the continents, the world still has a massive overpopulation problem. In the next three decades, it will get even worse. There will be around two billion people added to these numbers. With a growing population, urbanization and industrial development is a natural progression. This will lead to the loss of arable lands (any land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops). Research shows that we’ve already lost around a third over the last 40 years. Without land to grow produce on, feeding all of us will become more and more challenging. Is there a solution? Some believe that vertical farming could be it.

Agricultural area over the long-term, 1600 to 2016
Total areal land use for agriculture, measured as the combination of land for arable farming (cropland) and grazing in hectares. Graph from

Vertical Farming: What it is and How it Works

Instead of traditional farming on a single-level piece of land or in a greenhouse, vertical farming involves growing produce on inclined surfaces integrated into other structures. Contemporary indoor farming techniques are used. This includes the artificial control of light, temperature, and humidity to create an environment that replicates natural conditions. The objective of vertical farming is to maximise output in minimal space.

To understand how vertical farming works, it’s important to know that there are four critical areas:

  1. The farm’s physical layout — To produce more foods in a smaller area, vertical farmers use stacked layers to cultivate crops.
  2. Lighting — Perfect light levels are maintained using a combination of natural and artificial light. Some farms use technologies like rotating beds.
  3. The growth medium used — Instead of using soil, vertical farming uses aquaponic or aeroponic growth mediums like coconut husks and peat moss.
  4. Aspects of sustainability — This covers features that offset the associated energy costs of the farm. For example, this type of farming uses as much as 95% less water.
Vertical Farming — How It Works by Gilles Berdugo
Vertical Farming — How It Works by Gilles Berdugo

Pros and Cons of Vertical Farming

This all sounds great, right? Yes, but there are some challenges to overcome before the world can rush ahead into changing the way we farm. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of vertical farming to consider:


  • Vertical farming may be a solution to handle an increase in food demands. There is a superfast increase in urbanization and a need for food, which will likely grow exponentially in the coming years as the population grows.
Graph — Will there be enough food for 9.6 billion people?
Will there be enough food for 9.6 billion people? Graph from
  • Produce can be grown out of season. More produce can be grown in the same space, and it’s not dependent on the weather or natural conditions. Vertical farmers can create any season artificially. This could reduce the costs of production and lower the food industry’s carbon footprint as there will no longer be a need to import out-of-season produce. Of course, this would depend on whether vertical farming becomes a mainstream method worldwide.
  • Vertical farmers use a LOT less water! With this method, farmers can produce crops using between 70% and 95% less water than ordinary farming. It also keeps them from being affected by the weather. Droughts, flooding, torrential rains, cyclones, and other natural weather disasters are becoming more frequent because of climate change. Since they are Indoors, vertical farms are not affected by this.
Water use of vertical farming and greenhouse cultivation in Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates
Water use of vertical farming and greenhouse cultivation in Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates (Graamans et al., 2018; Kikuchi et al., 2018). Graph from
  • Produce can be grown organically. The controlled indoor environment allows farmers to grow produce without chemical pesticides.
  • Vertical farming is environmentally friendly. With traditional farming, farmers are exposed to dangers like farming equipment and chemicals. Vertical farming is safer. It’s also better for the environment because it doesn’t take natural habitats away or disturb animals and plants.


  • Economic feasibility still has to be explored in-depth; it could turn out to be too expensive to be viable. The cost of constructing tall buildings close to cities could outweigh the benefits on top of operational expenses. Traditional farms are usually located in urban areas, which are cheaper. It may take a similar road to solar heating, which was expensive at first, but costs began dropping as the technology developed.
  • Pollination is a challenge that could add to the costs. Because vertical farms are indoors in controlled environments, there are no insects naturally present. This means that crops have to be manually pollinated, which would add to operational costs.
  • There is a potential for higher costs for labour. Although automation in this type of farming would lead to fewer manual labourers, it may require more skilled labour, which means higher salary requirements. Salaries are also higher, the closer you get to cities. The plus side to this disadvantage is that vertical farming could create more jobs.
  • Vertical farming is highly reliant on technology and infrastructure; just a single day of power loss could devastate an entire crop. As technology develops, efficiency will likely increase, and costs will eventually drop. But this also means that the whole operation is dependent on this technology at all times. Without it, vertical farmers can’t control the lighting, temperature, and humidity. The question is if our technology is advanced enough to cope with this.

Vertical Farming Developments Around the World

The United States has seen massive developments in the vertical farming sector. According to research projections, the industry could reach values of around $15 billion in the next few years. While vertical farming is steadily growing in the US, Asia has seen the most success so far. Japan already has over 200 large-scale vertical farms, and China has at least 80. Sadly, more than half are not as profitable as yet. The technologies are still very new, and vertical farmers are working hard to figure out how to produce large quantities of crops while making it economically viable.

While the ultimate goal is to meet the ever-increasing demand for food with a sustainable solution, profits are still a crucial factor to consider. Technology is being developed as quickly as possible. Even smaller companies are integrating technology into their operations. This includes sensors and technology that helps maintain an optimal growth environment, data and analytics, and technology that keeps tabs on crops’ health and manages nutrient supply. Hopefully, as we advance, these technologies will be fine-tuned to make vertical farming cost-effective, which will drive revenues.



Gilles Berdugo

Eco-friendly globetrotter seeking to make the world a greener place and creator of