Indoor vertical farming is being used to grow leafy greens but what about other important global commodities, such as wheat? Wheat was first likely bred and domesticated 10,000 years ago in the fertile crescent of Western Asia. Since then it has been one of the most important staple crops around the world. Currently, wheat is the main source of plant protein and accounts for 20% of the calories in the average human diet, with wheat being the second most-produced crop globally. However, several factors influence yield variability, including soil quality, and weather.
A recent study modeled wheat growth in an indoor vertical farm. The model used a 10-layer, indoor vertical farm in which the wheat was provided with 2,000 μmol/m2/s of light for 24 h/d. The model was based off detailed data obtained from a previous study. The study predicted that an indoor vertical farm could produce an enormous 1,940 t/ha/y of wheat. This means the potential yield could be up to 600 times greater per hectare than current farming methods.
Although this is just for a 10-layer farm, the study further predicted in a 100-layer farm there is the potential to produce a staggering 19,400 t/ha/y. This presents the industry with a huge opportunity to establish a greater foothold in sustainable food production. Of course, bringing these huge wheat crop yields to fruition would come with challenges, requiring very high energy consumption.
So, could CEA farming change the world’s ability to grow wheat? Without question, there is game-changing potential here. It also comes at a time when one in nine people face hunger. Considering that the global population is expected to grow from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 9.7 billion in 2050 and peak at 11 billion by the end of the century, so too will the number of people facing hunger. To meet the growing demand for food it is predicted that the world could have to produce over 60% more wheat on less land. This is whilst wheat yield will be affected by other challenges including rising temperatures. Due to this, we may see “food shocks” driven by Earth’s rapidly expanding population, which could cause grain prices to spike, forcing demand for alternative crop production methods.
As we face an urgent need to find solutions to solve the world’s burgeoning food crisis, Industry 4.0 throws up many possibilities. Innovations in automation, light and science are growing at such a rate that could further lower the costs of vertical farming; solar and other new energy sources are becoming ever cheaper and more prevalent, and the power of collaboration is being realized.
So while we may have a little further to go until indoor wheat farming becomes the norm, with so much technological advancement within our grasp, it is only a matter of time.