With the global food crisis getting worse every day, AeroFarms seems to have devised a farming practice that could end up eliminating the food shortage menace once and for all. The environmental and agricultural champion is building a huge vertical farm that’s expected to dwarf Japan’s 25,000 square-foot VF and become the world’s largest.
Vertical farms have been around for some time now, but only constructed in small sizes. If the AeroFarms project becomes a success, we can expect to have more similar farms being established across the world to feed the growing population.
Established in Newark, New Jersey, the 70,000 square-foot indoor farm is tipped to produce 2 million pounds of food a year. According to the US-based agriculture startup, the facility will produce 75% more crop yield than an outdoor farm the same size. The most interesting thing about the farm is that it will only use 5% of water used in conventional farming systems.
Switching between 22 types of crops per year and allowing for cultivation of 250 different varieties, the piece of land will be a source of fresh produce for a large American population. The company aims to become the leading supplier of fresh vegetables in New Jersey and surrounding states.
Like in other vertical farms, the Newark-cropping grounds are constructed into towering stacks that measure 80 feet high. Some specialized forklift cranes will be used to access the top level zones. The stacks will feature a cloth medium suitable for seeding, germination, growing and harvesting. The medium is developed from recycled plastic water bottles which can be fully sanitized after every growing period.
The company uses a closed loop aeroponic system that consumes much less water. The system is expected to use 95% less water than soil farming and 40% less water than hydroponics. The farm machines will only be misting the roots of the crops with a solution containing water, nutrients and oxygen.
The enclosed farm will have specialized climate controls, LED lights and other monitoring systems. The lights will help in the control of size, color, shape, texture, nutrition and flavor of leafy vegetables. The climate controls will keep the growing environment at the right temperature, humidity and light. Oxygen, carbon dioxide and pH levels will be optimized to create the right growing environment. Everything is optimized to ensure maximum yield!
Cases of weeds, pests and diseases will be very rare in the vertical farm. There will be no use of chemicals, but some preventive and control measures for harmful organisms will be put in place. For example, any equipment entering the farm will be disinfected. The workers’ shoes will also be subjected to the same microorganisms-killing process.
There will be tens of thousands of data points to monitor. The company will employ qualified plant scientists to monitor data points from each section of the facility. In order to improve production, some more experts will be employed to test, use and review predictive analytics.
Safety will be the number one thing in the farm. People entering the farm will be required to wear personal protective gear. Those operating the machines will follow all safety rules and measures to minimize injuries and damages. There will also be a health center to cater for the sick or injured.
AeroFarms is planning to cultivate leafy greens and herbs in the vertical farm. Some of the crops include kale, arugula, mizuna, lettuce and watercress. By the end of 2016, local businesses and restaurants will start getting fresh produce from the farm. According to the company, other areas outside Newark will start enjoy the produce in the mid 2017. This will reduce transport time and cost meaning fresher, chemical free produce at a reduced price!
Apart from improving food supply in the region, the vertical farm will create jobs and boost agricultural research. Close to 80 permanent jobs will be created at the kick off, and more are expected in the future. As for the research, some schools, colleges and universities are expected to partner with the farm to develop new crop varieties and farming methods. Students who grew up in urban settings will have a great opportunity to experience crop growing and rural living style.
As mentioned earlier, the vertical farm will prove that it is possible to have large-scale crop production activities in urban areas. AeroFarms is encouraging towns and cities across the world to adopt this farming practice in order to have a quick and steady supply of fresh produce, and most importantly, do away with food shortage.