Vertical farming is a very efficient and advanced technique relating to urban agriculture. With the growing world, increasing population, developments in science and technology; the importance, occupation, and value of agriculture has always remained the same.
Agriculture is a major primary service and is the most essential form of production as it is based on the supply of food for the living and survival of mankind.
Vertical farming is a form of agriculture where crops are grown in vertical stacks arranged in a setting resembling a building or skyscraper.
These crops are grown in conditions manipulated and altered by man in an indoor setting, mostly greenhouses or institutions made for these tasks.
This sustainable, professional and progressive form of farming was introduced way back and there are numerous archaeological proofs that these agricultural systems were used in various civilizations and societies to engage in a better form of agriculture.
Vertical farming engages various techniques of farming which are judicious, lead to less wastage of resources, uses the soilless medium, are growth-centered, and are more environment-friendly. Some of the techniques used include – Hydroponics, Aeroponics, Aquaponics, etc.
Let us look closely into how Aeroponics works in Vertical Farming.
What is Aeroponics?
Aeroponics is a way of cultivating crops which are often used in Vertical farms. This is a soilless medium of plant growth and it results in better production of crops, quality and quantity-wise in comparison to traditional ways of agriculture.
This system of agriculture replaces the function of soil in plant production with air or mist. Aeroponics provides the nutrients that are required by plants through air or mist filled with nutrients.
Unlike hydroponics and aquaponics which are conducted in water; this way of aeroponic plant growth is carried out without the use of any growing medium.
The term ‘Aeroponics”, is derived from the Greek words – ‘aer’ meaning air and ‘ponos’ which translates to labor. It combines to mean an environment where plants are grown in air culture.
Conditions suiting the plant are created and controlled in the indoor settings or greenhouses to support the environmental needs of the plant.
How does it work?
To facilitate the growth of crops in a soilless medium using air, the plants are set up in an aeroponic apparatus. The first step of using the Aeroponic system of agriculture includes laying the plants in a vertical setting.
Usually tower-like structures are inculcated so that the crops can be positioned vertically leading to the requirement of less space to vegetate.
Usually, foam structures are used to place the plants in such a way that the stem going upwards has enough support as well as the roots of the plant stay below the foam and are left dangling in the air.
A frame or stalk acting as support is often used to keep the longer and heavier stems upright in the growth medium.
The stem above the closed foam arrangement is exposed to light sources according to the sunlight preferences of the plant. Often LED lights and ultraviolet energy is used for this purpose.
The roots that lay hanging below the foam are provided with nutrients laid in air and mist and they are often sprayed to the roots for better absorption.
The nutrients are directly effectively given to the plant through the air. In such a manner, the crops do not have to search for the nutrients that are found in the soil.
The foam also holds the crops in place as they keep growing in the set apparatus receiving nutrition from the controlled environment in the greenhouses.
This system is often assisted by hydroponic techniques where the roots are provided the needed nutrition through water solutions enriched with nourishing minerals which the crops need.
The environmental air conditions are set and altered according to plant needs and are kept as clean and healthy as possible.
The air which transmits nutrition to the crops is kept free of pests and other disease-causing germs and microbes as they can hamper the growth of plants.
Due to less exposure to pests, proper nutrition to all plants, lesser competition for food when compared to soil, and properly regulated light and temperatures, the yield is benefitted at all levels.
Crops grown are also cleaner and more organic. The produce is faster and yield is also quantitatively more. Thus, this technique gives rise to increased harvest and better-quality food when compared to crops that are grown in soil using traditional methods of farming.
Advantages of using the Aeroponic System:
This technique of vertical farming has numerous benefits, they include:-
1. This air-based setup supplies increased amounts of oxygen to the roots. As the medium of plant support is minimal and the roots are directly in contact with the air, therefore, they receive maximum amounts of oxygen directly.
When in soil, the amount of oxygen exposure available to the plants is lesser in comparison to an aeroponic medium. This helps in the better growth and nourishment of the crops.
2. Due to increased aeration and fewer hindrances in the surrounding roots by physical factors, the nutrients that are provided through the air are also easily absorbed.
In aeroponics, the droplets of water that carry the nutrition for the plants and the oxygen needed for crop growth reaches the roots faster and easier than even in hydroponics. This abundant and uninterrupted supply of oxygen along with nutrients and water assists in the development of crops.
3. The vertical arrangement of plants in aeroponic systems makes better use of space. More crops can be planted in lesser space when they are stacked in vertical rows and columns, than being planted down on the soil.
This leads to the management of space. Due to this, per area production is also comparatively higher.
4. Researchers conducted observations to find out the efficiency of this technique and they found that this system of agriculture gives rise to the production of crops to approximately 30 percent on an average. The yield increases when aeroponics is used in vertical farming.
5. Along with an increase in the quantity of yield, the time required for the crops are also lesser in comparison to traditional methods of agriculture.
According to researches carried out by NASA, the time required has been stated to be 3 times faster. As exposure to light and be manipulated, the crops are provided with artificial lighting for longer amounts of time and this results in quicker growth.
6. Aeroponic system of agriculture uses less water not only in comparison to traditional methods that use soil for agriculture, but also in comparison to hydroponics.
It has been found out that this technique makes use of 98 percent less water than when grown in a soil medium.
7. As the environment in an aeroponic agricultural system is managed and kept clean, there are lesser chances of pest infestations or fungal damage to the crops.
As soil isn’t a medium used, the diseases transmitted from soils aren’t an issue. Also, the chances of weeds appearing are less. The plants grow in a cleaner condition and are less vulnerable to pests.
8. As some lesser pests and insects affect crop growth and this system of agriculture provides optimum plant growing conditions, thus need for the usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers are comparatively less.
Lesser chemical input in agricultural crop growth leads to cleaner and more organic and fresher food products.
9. The method of Aeroponic farming utilizes less space, does not hamper natural land as well as it uses lesser water resources. Thus, these procedures of growing crops are very environment friendly.
Vertical farming using aeroponics utilizes less natural land resources; water is also conserved as irrigation needs are less.
This also leads to the conservation of forest areas that are otherwise cleared for agricultural purposes. Along with forest habitats, the flora and fauna in the forest also benefit from this practice.
10. Implying these advanced urban methods of growing crops also eliminate traditional processes included in agriculture based on soil mediums.
Labor-intensive activities like tilling the soil, plowing, regular clearing of weeds, etc. aren’t necessary for such techniques. Thus, there is a lesser need for laborers and it makes the process cost-efficient and reduces labor expenses.
11. With automated systems and no need for fertile land to cultivate crops, this system can be used in various locations which naturally do not support plant growth or agriculture.
Greenhouses can be built in such locations as well. It also indirectly reduces transportation of food from one place to another and its cost involved. Ultimately leading to a decrease in carbon footprint.
Disadvantages of using the Aeroponic system:
Along with all the benefits of this the technique employed in vertical farming, there arise a few disadvantages too. They are:
1. Aeroponic systems require heavy energy support to run various types of machinery and equipment like pressure pumps, sprinklers, etc. If any of this machinery goes out of hands or experiences any hindrance in the electric power supply, the production process can be adversely affected. Crop maintenance can be hampered and may even be damaged.
2. Developing this system of agriculture is very expense and risky investment. Setting up and initially preparing greenhouses or other places, loading them with proper structures and equipment, providing undivided energy supply, etc. make this process ultimately financially challenging.
3. This method requires high knowledge in the technical aspects to be carried out smoothly. The perfect amounts of nutrient supply, temperature, and light adjustments fertilizing, etc. require extra knowledge as plants are directly exposed to its requirements. Skill and technical knowledge are must along with constant attention and tending to the growing crops.
4. As the roots of the plants are exposed to the surrounding environment and aren’t enclosed in soil, thus, they need regular tending and disinfecting from time to time so that the roots can be kept away from diseases and microbes which may enter through nutrition channels. Hydrogen peroxide is a commonly used disinfectant which helps to keep the roots healthy and away from diseases. This is also used as it has less harmful effects on the plants.
5. Another flaw which comes along with this advanced manner of agriculture is that – as these systems need continuous automatic systems and machines, they require fossil fuels to support their running.
This leads to the exploitation of energy resources. It also produces residues that are harmful to the environment and the machines produce a lot of noise resulting in noise pollution in enclosed areas.
Various types of Aeroponics:
There are 3 types of Aeroponic techniques that are used, they are:
1. LOW PRESSURE AEROPONICS
This is the most commonly used by cultivators and the cheapest type of aeroponic technology that is induced in vertical growing environments. This system is also known as ‘soakponics’.
The working of this system includes the roots to be kept suspended with a reservoir underneath. This reservoir delivers nutrients mixed in water solvents through nozzles.
The nutrients from these nozzles are sprayed as a mist to the roots for absorption. This is a technique of hydroponics used to supply food to the suspended roots.
2. HIGH PRESSURE AEROPONICS
This is a more efficient system of hydroponics which uses the same reservoir setup to mist roots with a nutrient solution as in low-pressure aeroponics.
The mist is generated and sprayed through high-pressure pumps which are used in the production of high-value crops.
These systems are comparatively advanced as well as expensive and require high setup and maintenance costs. The droplets are smaller in size and help in keeping the conditions aerated.
3. ULTRASONIC FOGGER AEROPONICS
Also commonly called – fogponics, this system uses ultrasonic fogger instruments to create droplets if nutrients which are very tiny and give a fog-like appearance. These systems can be less efficient as they lead to clogs in pores hampering the roots.
Aeroponics is also used to grow crops in space as they do not require soil and this system has been tried and tested by NASA. It is all in all a very efficient and advanced urban agricultural system. With the right techniques, settings, and maintenance, you can literally grow crops out of thin air with Aeroponics!