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Vertical Farming: The Food Solution for an Urban Population

By Alejandro Preinfalk - Siemens Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean


By Alejandro Preinfalk | CEO & President - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 11:01

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Last November, the Earth’s population crossed the threshold of 8 billion people. The UN’s latest projections predict that by 2030 we will reach 8.5 billion worldwide. Along with this increase, the demand for food and energy resources will also grow, both of which are already at stressed levels. As a result, innovative and autonomous agricultural systems are highly welcome.

The way humanity has developed further complicates this scenario. According to the World Bank, in one-third of the world’s countries, the population of rural areas exceeds 50%. This means that more than half of the people on the planet live in cities, and Latin America is among the most notable regions, with 82% of its population inhabiting these areas, surpassed only by North America (with 83%). 

As if this was not enough, the food and beverage industry is particularly challenged. This sector accounts for around 30% (UN) of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% (FAO) of global freshwater usage, while 40% (WWF) of production is wasted amid a global hunger crisis. 

In this context, vertical farming is positioned as the best option to meet the food demand of a growing urban population, by allowing harvests to be grown where people are, all year round, free from pesticides and herbicides, maintaining their flavor and freshness while ensuring that the process is carried out efficiently and sustainably, saving water, energy, and space. 

This farming scheme not only maximizes space by using closed structures, but also makes use of existing technologies to create a controlled environment that always guarantees that the crops receive the right amount of nutrients, water, light, and heat while increasing the amount of food that can be produced within a limited space. The question is, what is the formula for carrying this out successfully?

Reaping benefits, Profits 

It is not fortuitous that the vertical farming segment is estimated to grow threefold in only five years, from US$5.1 billion in 2023 to US$15.3 billion by 2028, according to Markets and Markets. The answer lies in the deployment of technologies to digitalize and automate production and facilities, taking advantage of data to achieve greater efficiency, productivity, and sustainability through intelligent processes. 

At Siemens, we provide technologies that have supported businesses dedicated to vertical farming around the world, including 80 Acres Farms in the US, Bustanica in the United Arab Emirates, and Greentech in the Netherlands.

With 80 Acres Farms, Siemens maintains a collaboration agreement to apply innovative technology in the sector and promote more productive and sustainable agricultural practices, through the industrialization and expansion of Loop (Infinite Acres platform, a technology subsidiary of 80 Acres Farms), which is a comprehensive solution that encompasses software and algorithms for crop management, environmental controls, robotics, and automation. Furthermore, the company also uses our solutions, such as a facility management system (including power supply, fire alarm, and security services), artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) for plant growth, facility optimization, and energy management, among others, obtaining the following results:

  • 95% less water used compared to traditional farming.

  • Up to 300 times more food grown per square foot. 

  • 100% renewable energy and zero pesticides. 

In the case of Bustánica, Siemens has provided an end-to-end holistic solution with the configuration of adequate transparency in the facilities, supply of security equipment and software designed for the industrial environment, tools to monitor the security status of each facility and control and monitoring of ventilation and air conditioning. In this case, the most noteworthy results are:

  • 95% less water is required compared to a conventional plot.

  • Yields over 1 million kg of produce per year.

  • Products free from pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals. 

Greenhouses and vertical farms are key areas to master the challenges of food supply and its security. Creating the perfect growing conditions for plants and other food products in a reliable and energy-efficient way becomes possible with the right choice of building automation solutions.

Also, the responsible use of water as a resource is essential for the farming industry. The Digital Enterprise portfolio enables intelligent linking of data from different sources, such as sensors, water meters, and weather data. This is creating new opportunities to use this vital liquid more efficiently, and therefore more sustainably, in farming and other industries.

Even relatively small steps in the industry can add up to a large impact, and with digital transformation, it is possible to make real, measurable strides toward sustainable outcomes.

Photo by:   Alejandro Preinfalk

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