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Indoor Vertical Farming

Ivan Muts
May 18, 2022
10 mins to read

Table of Contents

    The first prototypes of vertical farms occurred long before modern technology — Babylonians used hanging gardens, and the Aztecs suspended crops in shallow rivers and lakes.

    Today, Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) technology involving AI, IoT and ML allows using artificial lighting and preserving the right humidity level and temperature to grow plants independently of weather conditions and seasons.
    So what is it about indoor vertical farming that makes it prevail over field-grown crops? Let’s discuss it in detail.

    What is vertical farming?

    Vertical farming is a process of growing crops in so-called stacks, where they are placed in rows on top of each other. Vertical farms are also usually indoor, located in buildings like smart warehouses that allow keeping the environment under control.

    Hydroponics vs Aquaponics vs Aeroponics

    types of vertical farming: Hydroponics vs Aquaponics vs Aeroponics

    Unlike conventional farming, which is soil-based, plants at vertical farms grow in one of the 3 cultivation types — hydroponics, aquaponics or aeroponics:

    Vertical farming is a better alternative to the traditional way of growing plants horizontally in fields or greenhouses since they save space, produce all year round and use fewer resources. In the long run, vertical farming helps resolve global food shortages and save water.

    Why use vertical farming?

    There are lots of vertical farming benefits when compared to the traditional way of growing plants. These are increased and year-round crop production, water savings, preservation of arable areas, pesticide-free products, stable supply of food and ensured food health and safety.

    Key benefits of vertical farming

    Key benefits of vertical farming

    Vertical farming empowered by technology

    So how does vertical farming work? To create and preserve a favorable environment for the plants, control systems are used in agribusinesses. These include sensors that measure and adjust the needed level of humidity, light intensity, temperature, and airflow consistency to maintain a steady environment.

    Vertical farming empowered by technology

    Indoor farming climate control

    To keep the production stable at all times, the environment in which the crops grow has to preserve particular conditions, like a certain temperature and level of humidity. Because of the changes in weather outside of the farm, it’s crucial to make sure that these don’t affect the farming system environment.

    That’s when humidity and temperature control systems come to the rescue. The temperature sensor tracks the temperature of the air inside if it’s an aeroponics system or the water if it’s a hydro- or aquaponics one and regulates it to achieve the needed level. At the same time, the dehumidifier controls the level of humidity in the farming system using the air outside.

    Smart lighting for indoor farms

    For plant growth on a traditional farming site, sunlight is the essential element, which leads the crops to depend on the changes in weather and seasons. Indoor farms, in turn, are equipped with smart lighting systems, where LED lamps go on and off automatically according to growing cycles. Lighting sensors also measure the intensity of the light when it is on, and the control system adjusts it to the needed level with no human interaction.

    Air control

    Indoor farms need enough air volume to meet the dehumidification and cooling needs of the plants. One of the ways to keep the needed conditions in the environment of indoor farming is by air conditioning or a heat pump (so-called HVAC systems). Both allow for airflow to balance the indoor temperature when it gets heated by pulling colder air from the outside. Proper ventilation also helps equally distribute heat/cooling and humidity between all areas to keep a homogenous environment across the entire farming area.

    Besides temperature control, airflow is crucial for proper CO2 distribution to ensure photosynthesis and healthy plant growth. Because carbon dioxide is heavier than air, it falls to the bottom of the room, which makes it difficult to supply the upper parts of an indoor vertical farm. That’s why indoor farms need to be equipped with technology like HVAC systems that get continuous air circulation.

    Building management system (BMS)

    A building management system at an indoor farming facility provides access to monitoring and control of all electrical equipment installed and operating at the site, including climate control, lighting and air control sensors. All electronics operating at the farm are automated and connected to the BMS — they adjust parameters automatically to preserve a particular level of temperature, airflow, lighting and other things.

    A BMS is operated by a computer, hence it collects all parameters in one place, which makes it extremely easy to monitor the performance of the entire system through software. In fact, you don’t even have to be present at the site to take control of all the technology.

    How vertical farming technology works

    Now that we’ve answered the question of what is vertical farming, let’s discuss how modern solutions bring it to the next level. Since the system of indoor vertical farming operated on data from sensors and other technologies, it can be captured and analyzed to boost improve current production and get recommendations for future crop growing cycles.

    Indoor farming data collection

    All the control systems capture information on temperature and the levels of humidity, CO2 and lighting in the facility — this is IoT in action. The sensors measure these metrics and transmit this data to software, which further allows working with it to ensure that all the levels are correct and the entire system performs according to set criteria.

    Besides the sensors, recognition-based technology and image processing software can also be applied to indoor farming. These imply collecting images of the plants or the farming system they grow in to get information on their health throughout the growing process and monitor it to make changes if needed.

    Indoor farming data visualization

    From the data collected with all the sensors, the values received are then transferred to software. At this stage, the data is compared with the values that are normal for healthy plant growth. If the two do not align, then the actual values need to be changed.

    Overall, data visualization allows for clear and detailed real-time monitoring and adjusting of the system to the desired indicators, as well as tracking patterns in system performance and farm life for further analysis.

    AI and ML analytics for growth recommendations

    AI and ML can be used at every stage of the growing process to eventually get production of high quality. The application of IoT technologies like sensors for continuous monitoring and data collection from indoor and vertical farms is called connected farming, which is a growing approach in agriculture. Here’s how connected farming looks in practice.

    Indoor farm automation

    Automation in indoor and vertical farming provides significant benefits to the industry by solving significant issues, like labor shortage, long task completion, and low accuracy because of human error. Eventually, robotics and automation fill in the labor gap, speed up task completion and perform tasks with high accuracy.

    Indoor farming can be automated at every stage of the process, from planting to harvesting and cleaning the beds for the next planting cycle. Let’s discuss how every step of growing plants indoors is automated.

    Why is vertical farming important for our future food system?

    More and more people are moving from villages to cities. This means that fewer households are feeding themselves with home-grown crops, hence leading the demand for food to increase. Vertical farming can cope with this demand and provide enough food supply for the growing population.

    Then, growing crops indoors takes up to 95% less water than the same field-grown harvest batch — it helps reduce the water shortage while providing more crops.

    The production of organic crops is also going to increase with the growth of vertical farming since indoor-grown plants are not treated with pesticides. Besides, vertical farming is environmentally friendly and does not cause any harm to flora and fauna in the nearby areas, just like it is a safe workplace for people.

    With this being said, vertical farming provides huge benefits to the food produced, the agriculture industry overall and the entire global food system.

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