Unlike traditional open-field agriculture, which is subject to increasingly volatile climate conditions, a vertical farming greenhouse is climate-controlled and so plays a vital role in meeting growing consumer demands for nutrient-dense and locally sourced organic produce.
While vertical farms offer climate-proof high yields of quality products and can be installed anywhere, greenhouses can produce the same amount of quality products and are far less costly. However, they need natural sunlight and space to produce nutrient-rich crops.
However, they are both costly ventures, so you might be wondering which option will offer me the best return on my investment?
Vertical Farms Vs. Greenhouses
Although vertical farming and greenhouses are both forms of a Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) system, they are vastly different in their installation and operating costs, and their outputs are highly location-dependent.
According to Henry Gordon-Smith, an independent CEA consultant, who coaches investors on the benefits of greenhouses and vertical farms, the latter is the most expensive venture as it can cost up to 10 times more to install.
High-tech vertical farm installations cost in the region of 2,200-2,600 Euro per m2, in comparison with state-of-the-art greenhouse installation costs of a mere 250-350 Euro per m2.
Unlike climate-controlled, fully automated vertical farms, greenhouses harness the power of the sun and photosynthesis to cultivate single-layered crops in plastic or glass, semi-controlled enclosures.
However, both agricultural approaches result in fresh local produce that is far more nutritious in comparison with imported or pesticide-ridden produce sourced from outdoor farms. But, nothing is stopping farmers from combining the two concepts into a vertical farming greenhouse, which would make effective use of space and climate.
While vertical farming greenhouse cultivated produce is still more expensive compared to produce cultivated traditionally, it has a competitive edge, especially with consumers who prefer organic produce and are willing to pay for it.
Which Is More Preferable – Greenhouse Or Vertical Farm?
Vertical farms and greenhouses may both offer a great return on investment. However, a farmer’s success is determined by their specific location, the type of cultivated produce, their access to the workforce, and financial resources to sustain the business. So, what is preferable, you might ask?
The benefit of vertical farms, in comparison with greenhouses, is that you can operate anywhere, and unlike greenhouses, you will not be dependent on sunlight to cultivate your produce. But in locations where space is a premium and the climate is correct, a vertical farming greenhouse could be the answer.
Vertical indoor farms can be placed in almost any location ranging from unused buildings to shipping containers. However, greenhouses are preferable in sunny countries with unreliable sources of energy with frequent blackouts.
Why Isn’t a Vertical Farming Greenhouse More Popular?
According to Forbes, vertical farming’s dependence on emerging artificial climate control technology instead of sunlight is currently not cost-effective. But a vertical farming greenhouse would answer these concerns.
While greenhouse farming has proven to be commercially viable over the last 20-30 years, as it is less reliant on artificial climate control, both indoor farming techniques are prohibitively expensive compared to traditional outdoor farming practices.
Moreover, in countries like the USA, investors may be hesitant to provide start-up funds in the indoor farming sector due to the following pertinent factors:
- Delayed returns: investors typically require a return on their investment in 5-10 years which might not be the possible case in the indoor farming sector.
- Consumer market: while consumers might be willing to pay more for indoor cultivated produce, retailers could be swayed to earn higher returns with outdoor farmed or imported produce.
However, astute investors are increasingly more willing to demonstrate their faith in the indoor farming sector due to the growing demand for organic, sustainably cultivated produce and the detrimental effects of climate change.
You can check out this video for more information on the sustainability of vertical farms.
The Ideal Locations For A Vertical Farm Versus A Greenhouse
As mentioned previously, vertical farms and greenhouses have their own benefits, so consider the following decision-making factors before you potentially make a costly mistake:
- Natural resources: if you reside in a sunny climate that is not drought-prone, a greenhouse would be preferable, especially if you have severe budget constraints.
- Available space: a vertical farm would be preferable if you are situated in a built-up urban area where the availability of space is at a premium, and you have enough capital at hand to invest in renewable energy. While greenhouses are less expensive, they require a lot of ‘prime real estate to produce financially sustainable amounts of produce.
- Consumer market: discerning urban consumers are often willing to pay more for organic micro-greens, berries, and herbs that are grown in vertical indoor environments.
Why Do We Need Vertical Farms And Greenhouses?
Vertical farms and greenhouses are essential in light of climate change if we are going to increase current food production levels by up to 70% in 2050 to feed the growing world population.
Unlike outdoor agriculture, produce grown in indoor vertical farms and greenhouses offers quality, nutrient dance produce that is available all year round.
Vertical farms and greenhouses are also not impacted by adverse weather conditions or seasons and can produce a higher yield in comparison with outdoor grown crops.
Most importantly, vertical farmers use far less water. Unlike traditional farmers, who use the most freshwater on the planet, it produces runoff, contaminating seas and lakes with harmful algal blooms and oxygen starvation.
While innovation in sustainable open-field agricultural settings is imperative to meet demand, the same rings true for climate-controlled indoor technologies.
Here are some great resources if you want to know more about the exciting CEA industry:
Climate change has irrevocably devastated the traditional open-field agricultural sector, and there is no doubt that new technologies will have to be employed to meet the current and growing consumer demand.
Vertical farming greenhouse technology have enabled this pioneering sector to produce fresh, nutritious produce for their local communities in a climate-controlled environment impervious to inclement weather conditions that have wreaked havoc.
While CEA technology might take some time to become cost-effective, it plays a pivotal role in combatting world hunger, and there is no doubt that it will evolve in leaps and bounds.
By investing in indoor technological advancements, we will all have access to affordable, nutritious fresh food, which in my humble opinion, is a noble cause!