Whether you’re farming vegetables, fruits, grains, or anything else you must keep up with the latest trends on practically everything: global food markets, weather patterns, climate change, policy changes, and the list keeps growing. And as some of those patterns continue to worsen and the global population increases exponentially, farmers will have to find new and innovative ways to adapt to increased demand and worsening conditions.
One of the fastest-growing innovations in farming right now is indoor farming. With a market share estimated to hit $6.4 billion by the end of this year, indoor farming is exploding in commercial popularity, and for good reason. Indoor farming is much more resource efficient than outdoor farming for a variety of reasons.
Indoor farming uses up to 95% less water than traditional farming because water can be recycled and redistributed, instead of being lost to outdoor effects, like poor irrigation and/or evaporation. And the vertical farming techniques used frequently in indoor farms mean that they are far more space efficient. Farming in 3D instead of on a 2D plane allows for more innovative, efficient, and effective farming techniques.
Benefits of Indoor Farming
The benefits of indoor farming are numerous and highly varied. Some have already been mentioned, like how indoor farms use significantly less water than traditional farms and are far more space efficient. But there are even more advantages afforded by indoor farming.
Adaptable and Efficient
Indoor farming allows for year-round harvesting. Since you’re basically unaffected by the weather or seasonal changes, you can plant whatever crops you want year-round. Indoor farming affords you a choice driven by market needs rather than weather conditions.
As mentioned above, reduced labor and resource costs are drastically lower. Space specifically is hugely more efficient with indoor farming rather than traditional farming. In fact, some indoor farms have reported being able to grow as many crops as a two- or three-acre farm with only 340 square feet!
Indoor farms have drastically reduced carbon footprints, which will be an important shift in the battle against climate change, especially as indoor farms replace greenhouses, which have been reported to contribute as much as 10% of overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Indoor farming can integrate robotics in a way that even the most modern traditional farms can’t. In fact, many indoor farming start-ups are integrating robotics into their indoor farms from top to bottom. Some, like Square Roots, have gone on record saying that AI manages the indoor climate and water of their farms to create an insulated biosystem. This allows indoor farmers to meticulously control the environment that their crops are growing in and automate many of the processes therein.
Most indoor farms are built in the heart of cities. Some are even built inside shipping containers and put in parking lots. These locations remove practically all need for transportation and preservation which can contribute greatly to produce quality and emissions in traditional farms.
Instead of having to ensure leafy greens will be kept fresh on a multi-day voyage from the West to East Coast, crops can be grown and then carried across a parking lot to the supermarket where they’ll be sold. No transportation, no trucking, and no need to keep produce fresh on trips; these reductions are significant for crop quality, consumer satisfaction, emissions, and overall costs.
Indoor farms are closed environments. Not only can they largely ignore the weather and climate conditions that could devastate traditional farms, but they also remain mostly pest-free. This means they can have little to no pesticide use, which means no pesticides on indoor farming crops.
This is compounded by the well-regulated biosystems that indoor farms can maintain and the lack of transportation requirements, which leads to crops that are fresher, healthier, and more minutely curtailed to taste and texture desires.
So not only are indoor farms more efficient on almost all fronts (and in very significant ways), but they also produce healthier, better crops that don’t have to grapple with the dangers of transportation and storage.
Types of Indoor Farming
There are two main types of indoor farming: hydroponics and vertical farming. While they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, they do involve certain techniques which can be blended or kept separate.
Hydroponics farming removes soil from the occasion entirely. Instead, crops float in water mixed with a nutrient solution. While this does cut down on some costs and labor, the main effect of hydroponics farming is increased crop yield.
The roots of the crops don’t have to “search” for nutrients; instead, the nutrients cling to the roots themselves. This allows the crops to grow much faster and healthier than they would otherwise. Hydroponics farming is much more resource efficient, but it does take more energy.
Because of all of the equipment required to keep the water full, mixed well, and fresh, hydroponics farming can take even more energy in an industry that can already be energy intensive.
We’ve mentioned vertical farming repeatedly because it’s almost baked into indoor farming itself, but what does it actually mean? Vertical farming is what the name would imply: it’s taking 2D farming on a single plane and making it 3D. Instead of planting crops on a single layer, you build racks and platforms to allow for multiple (potentially dozens) layers of crops.
These layers are what allow vertical farming to be so space- and resource-efficient. They take crop numbers that would take hundreds of acres of farms and condense them into a warehouse of 20,000 square feet. This consolidation allows for incredible speed and efficiency in indoor farm operations.
Like hydroponics, vertical farms can be energy intensive. In fact, some studies hold that indoor farms are actually less energy efficient than traditional farms, but the debate is still heavy on that topic.
For one, indoor farming is new and constantly innovating for greater efficiency, and two, outdoor farming can be incredibly energy intensive as well. Not to mention, some studies on outdoor farming energy use fail to account for all of the cascading emissions that outdoor farming takes, like transportation emissions and crop failure leading to replanting and regrowing.
All this to say, indoor farming is a rapidly growing and changing new industry in the farming landscape. The world is changing faster every day, and with climate change looming on the horizon (and increasingly in our daily lives), you have to be ready to adjust and adapt while also planning for the future.
With the future of farming moving indoors, strategic partners will be needed for successful facilities. Vulcan Squad has the knowledge and partnerships to create successful grow spaces for your farms. Don’t be caught off guard by farming changes or left behind the curve: ensure that your business is ready to move or already ahead of the curve by moving into indoor farming now.