When the pioneering vertical farms were established around the world, comparatively basic first-generation technology used created relatively inefficient systems compared with today. Although these operations only enabled the most basic functions to occur, they demonstrated how feasible it was to grow plants in vertical structures and thus, for the first time in history, opened doors to the vast number of opportunities associated with space-optimised and controlled-environment food production in urban environments.
Notably, this had the potential to bridge the gap between the food source and consumer-created by the second agricultural revolution of the 17th century, which led to the industrial revolution and mass urbanisation.
As the industry’s capital expenditure tends to remain high, increasing the financial viability of vertical farming businesses by cutting down the operating costs is crucial for securing a successful future and has thus become a key focus of research. The transition from first-generation to second-generation technology is critical. Second-generation technology enables automation and continual optimisation of the growing process, resulting in immensely higher yields and more appealing and feasible investment opportunities.
In the indoor farming industry’s short history, advancements in automation have been made in a range of areas including watering and hydroponics, and monitoring of water parameters. More modern practices integrate robotics and even allow plants to be moved. The automation of light quality and intensity plus the incorporation of LEDs has also been key to creating big energy savings and higher quality produce, and there are emerging examples of systems with LEDs that respond and automatically adjust their intensity according to real time data output from the plants.