How can we use innovative production systems to supply the world's growing population with healthy, nutritious, and sustainably produced food? The "Inhouse Farming - Feed & Food Show" aims to provide answers to this question. Organized by the DLG (German Agricultural Society), the B2B platform will be held in parallel with Agritechnica in Hanover, Germany, from November 12 to 18.
Marcus Vagt, DLG Head of Energy, Inhouse Farming, and New Foods, explains the concept behind the new B2B platform.
Mr. Vagt, according to the United Nations forecast, the number of urban dwellers will increase by one billion to 5.2 billion people by 2030…
Around 60 percent of the world's population will live in a city by then. A large proportion of these are unlikely to have access to regionally produced, fresh food. The megatrend of urbanization poses complex challenges to current agricultural systems. Solutions are therefore needed as to how cities themselves can contribute more to the supply. This is a topic that we are specifically addressing at this year's Agritechnica as part of the "Inhouse Farming - Feed & Food Show."
Many experts see the decoupling of food production from soil and external climate influences as a lever for ensuring sufficient supplies for the population in cities in the future. Is this an assessment you share?
It makes sense to move part of agricultural production to the cities and to grow crops where they will be consumed. But the land in metropolitan areas is valuable, and the roof surfaces are already largely occupied by photovoltaics and building technology so that sustainable agriculture cannot be practiced on them on the scale that is currently the case in fields and on arable land. In cities, therefore, the areas under cultivation in the future will tend to expand in height rather than in area.
…that is, in the urban environment, cultivation will go upwards?
The key word here is vertical farming, which is the concept of growing food on several floors. The crops are grown under controlled environmental conditions. This is made possible by Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) technologies, as presented at the Inhouse Farming - Feed & Food Show.
In order to be independent of weather and season with such a self-contained "greenhouse" on several floors, it requires the integration of innovative technologies…
Professional LED plant lighting systems and air conditioning systems, which can be used to control temperature and humidity, play an important role here. The roots of the plants usually do not grow on the ground but in hydroponic systems through which water enriched with nutrients flows. The task is to coordinate the technical systems so that each individual plant finds its optimal growing conditions.
In such a closed system, up to 95 percent of the water consumption can be saved compared to field cultivation…
…and I see another advantage because vertical farming not only creates new growing space in an urban environment but also shortens transport routes and cold chains, leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
Likewise, trade visitors to the show are likely to be interested in the complex monitoring and control systems associated with in-house farming concepts…
In particular, IoT sensors for smart irrigation, lighting, and climate adaptation are an exciting topic. But also, the systems of cultivation logistics for sowing, harvesting, and finally, the cleaning of the planting containers can be automated. Technology suppliers will have a wide range of solutions ready in Hanover. Users can start with a few key components and scale their automation as they grow, up to and including remote monitoring.
What are the prospects for in-house farming? Will it make a significant contribution to the food supply in the coming years?
Vertical and indoor farming will usefully supplement the supply of healthy, vitamin-rich food for the foreseeable future, but we still need outdoor production and greenhouses. The strengths of closed-loop agricultural systems come into play mainly when conventional farming methods reach their limits.
Most indoor farms currently grow microgreens - seedlings of fresh vegetables or lettuce that are harvested and consumed a few weeks after sowing. What opportunities do these new production methods offer for protein-rich crops?
These are precisely the foods that are important for combating world hunger. This calls for an interplay between science and practice. Expanding the product diversity of closed agricultural systems is, therefore, a central task to which various activities in the field of applied research are currently devoted.
You have already mentioned it: The water savings are enormous, but so are the energy costs. So energy efficiency is quite crucial for the economic viability of vertical farming…
This is a challenge that will be addressed by the exhibitors at the "Inhouse Farming - Feed & Food Show." For example, with power-saving and long-lasting LEDs that emit precisely the light frequencies that plants need for photosynthesis. In addition to lighting and irrigation, climate control technology also plays a crucial role. Intelligent solutions that use waste heat and increase energy efficiency can be found at the exhibition center.
Are the solutions on display an option for farms?
At present, most seasonal agricultural products can still be produced much more cost-effectively in a conventional greenhouse or in the field. But we need farmers who are interested in the closed cultivation systems and want to turn vertical farming or insect farming into profitable business models. They need to be involved in the further development and adaptation of the technologies. A major hurdle along the way is the investment costs.
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