Vertical Farming


Vertical farming (VF) is a broad term that encompasses a suite of technologies for increasing productivity per unit area of crop available land. It does this by extending plant cultivation into the vertical dimension and in locations where crop production may have been difficult or impossible previously. Over recent years, the interest in VF approaches has increased considerably in both the scientific and commercial community. The term has been used interchangeably to describe both large‐scale concepts such as food‐producing skyscrapers and smaller scale Vertical Farming Systems (VFS). Many of these systems utilise and integrate knowledge on plant abiotic responses such as those to light, nutrients, temperature and CO2. Elucidating the fundamental and applied plant science challenges linked to growing crops within VFS will be key for the success of the VF sector.

Key Concepts

  • Vertical farming encompasses numerous system typologies, differentiated by technology level, degree of enclosure and control over environmental variables.
  • A variety of soilless methods, such as hydroponic, semihydroponic and aeroponic systems, are used in vertical farming.
  • Light spectra have a profound influence over crop growth and morphology and can therefore be used as a tool to steer crop response for nutrition, specific compound production, morphology or biomass accumulation.
  • Other environmental conditions, such as CO2 concentration, air temperature, air velocity and nutrition, influence crop growth and morphology in vertical farming systems.
  • Crops suitable for vertical farming systems vary by system type and are dictated by cost of production relative to retail price and market demand.

Keywords: vertical farming; plant factory; urban agriculture; hydroponics

Figure 1. Schematic shows common Vertical Farming Systems (VFS) currently used commercially and for research. Starting from lower to higher tech approaches: (a) column‐type VFS in which plants are grown stacked in appropriate planting densities on top of each other on the surface of upright vertical columns, (b) A‐frame designs in which plants grow across the sides of triangle‐shaped hydroponic systems, (c) conveyor‐driven stacked growth systems that rotate crop‐growing platforms to increase the uniformity of light distribution within the VFS, and (d) high‐tech plant factory approaches which entail enclosed and controlled systems which grow crops in stacked shelves under artificial lighting, with a dedicated lighting system for each crop‐producing shelf.

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Further Reading

Al‐Kodmany K (2018) The Vertical City: A Sustainable Development Model. WIT Press.

Björn LO (2015) Photobiology: The Science of Light and Life. Springer‐Verlag: New York.

Lambers H, Chapin FS III and Pons TL (2008) Plant Physiological Ecology. Springer: New York.

Philips A (2013) Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance and Management of Edible Landscapes. John Wiley & Sons.

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Touliatos, Dionysios (Dennis), Beynon‐Davies, Rhydian, and McAinsh, Martin(May 2020) Vertical Farming. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028908]