Agri Tech, Food Tech

Vertical farming: the new focus for investment?

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Agritech companies who are specialising in vertical farming are hoping to produce enough food to feed a growing population within urban environments. With food grown vertically, less space is needed to supply the fresh produce we need, enabling us to change the food supply models that have traditionally relied upon open fields with goods transported many hundreds or thousands of miles to reach consumers in dense population areas. The potential of vertical farming hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the sector expected to reach a value of £2.3bn by 2024 in the US alone, it’s becoming a focus of investment.

With UK companies such as Vertical Future, Grow-Up and V-Farm expanding, and Ocado announcing that it is investing £17m into vertical farming as it looks to deliver it’s own produce to customers, there’s plenty of movement in the sector to excite investors.

Barclay’s took a look at the positives around vertical farming, as they highlighted it’s potential for future investors in a recent article. They say, “Vertical farming is well adapted to supplying cities with fresh produce. It uses layers of growing surfaces, stacked vertically. The environment is minutely controlled and many systems are totally soil free, using hydroponics to grow a wide range of crops.

Hydroponic growth systems – growing plants in nutrient-dense water – are significantly more efficient way of using water than traditional agriculture. One study found that in Arizona 1kg of lettuce grown in open fields would use 250l of water. Grown in a greenhouse, it would require 20l. In a vertical farm, one kilo of lettuce would use just one litre of water4. The process is at its most efficient in closed-loop system, where water can be recovered and re-used in a controlled environment.

Vertical farming makes the most economical use of space which is crucial in densely built areas or those with high land value. Whether building upward, or tunnelling down like London-based vertical farm company Growing Underground, technology is used to control every element of the growing process with robotics and AI increasing yields and reducing costs.

Vertical farming has two interrelated benefits. Space that might otherwise be wasted is put to use – and with food able to be produced in the heart of cities, the cost and emissions involved in transport and storage is massively reduced.”

Will that mean that vertical farming becomes the focus for agritech investment? Its current popularity suggests so, with Barclays suggesting that as vertical farming develops it could become even more efficient, and a real competitor to traditional farming that could have lasting benefits. “Improving technology and AI systems will continue to drive better efficiency and reduced environmental impacts. Vertical farming is not the only answer to feeding the population of tomorrow, but it will undoubtedly form part of the solution, and the UK’s agritech start-ups are helping hasten the process throughout the value chain.”