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Can emerging technologies make food production more sustainable?

It is no secret that modern, highly industrialized approaches to food production strains the environment. Today, food production represents approximately 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, food production is associated with other negative impacts, including high water demand, severe soil degradation, eutrophication, and more. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important for sustainable solutions to be developed for food systems. Fortunately, emerging technologies offer promising possibilities for sustainable food production. In this article, IDTechEx will examine three of these technologies and explore their potential to make food production more sustainable.

Vertical farming is an emerging technology that may improve the sustainability of agriculture. Vertical farming is a method of growing crops in modular stacks indoors and under controlled environmental conditions. Advanced growing methods such as hydroponics and LED lighting tailored to the exact photosynthetic needs of the crops are used in vertical farming to achieve yields hundreds of times higher than conventional agriculture per area of land used.

Vertical farming boasts several benefits compared to conventional agriculture. In particular, it is an incredibly efficient use of water and space. Vertical farming can achieve yields with over 90% less water usage compared to conventional farming, and it takes up less space due to the vertical stacking of crops. Furthermore, by treating used water carefully, the eutrophication potential of vertical farming can be reduced.

However, vertical farming, much like cultured meat production, uses far more electricity than conventional farming. Therefore, if a vertical farm sources energy from conventional fossil fuels, it is much less sustainable on the metric of CO2 emissions. To tackle this challenge, many vertical farming players are investigating the use of solar energy and other renewables to improve their sustainability. As LED efficiency improves, vertical farm energy demand will decrease, further improving its sustainability. Overall, vertical farming can potentially improve agriculture's sustainability impact by optimizing resource use and efficiency. Many believe in the sustainability credentials of vertical farming, and funding continues to grow. In 2021, US$1 billion was invested into the space, according to the IDTechEx report.

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