Solving world hunger with vertical indoor farming makes for a pretty good headline. Add saving the atmosphere from carbon emissions and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and you will get people downright giddy.
Valcent, Inc. is one of several companies pursuing new technologies that basically super-size the idea of indoor farming into a scalable solution that may well change the landscape of agriculture in the future. Their basic idea is to use hydroponic vertical farming to build farms on small footprints that stretch high up into the air using very-low water usage farming methods. In trials Valcent has increased some crop yields by up to 20 times the normal production volume and only required 5% of the average water used in conventional growing conditions. Further, due to the scalability and portability of their technology, they can build enormous farming operations very close to urban centers to make the product available fresher than ever before. In addition, the technology is self-contained and thus can be constructed almost anywhere, including in barren landscapes that do not support traditional farming methods. The implications for the developing world are huge, where the threats of hunger are very real. These technologies have the potential to transform the agriculture industry (more than 50% of the economy in many countries). Finally, the technology is also being developed to create huge algae growths that produce vegetable oils in huge quantities for bio-fuel. Thus, in addition to solving world hunger, they may also save the planet from carbon emissions and eliminate the U.S.’s dependancy on foreign oil. Not bad. Its always good to have high aspirations and big goals. Go big or go home!
One part of all this that continues to make me laugh every time I read it is the frequent references to contrast vertical farming methods with what the industry calls ‘field farming’. Oh yeah, ‘field farming’ — the kind with miles of corn popping up in rows? Rice paddies and potato farms? The way that humanity has produced almost 100% of our food for 10,000 years? Yes, that antiquated method is now referred to as ‘field farming’. How old school.