Indoor farming no silver bullet for environment issues
While indoor farming is a nice addition to existing systems for growing food, more must be done to make the sector economically viable and environmentally sustainable.
Indoor farming has become the latest buzzword associated with technology and the environment. It is even hailed as the future of agriculture.
Without the use of soil, crops are grown in an artificially controlled and enclosed environment using nutrient solution. Advanced technology is used to meticulously control and optimise growing conditions including lighting, humidity and temperature to enhance growth speed and quality.
Proponents of indoor farming have touted its benefits. For example, it is celebrated for its reliable harvest and year-round crop production since it eliminates the adverse impact caused by ever-changing climate conditions. Also, its growing environment is credited for eliminating the use of pesticides and the problems of soil erosion and degradation.
Furthermore, since crop production uses vertical spacing and tiered shelves in warehouses or multistorey factory buildings in urban areas, some believe indoor farming can increase the efficiency of land use. The convenient location of indoor farms also helps reduce transport costs and improve freshness of the crops at the point of sale.
However, amid all the hype surrounding indoor farming, much more needs to be done for it to truly live up to its lofty promises.
First, advanced technology and high levels of energy consumption are required to establish and maintain the controlled environment. Because of the high upfront investment and energy costs, there are concerns regarding the financial viability of indoor farms. The higher production costs also mean that produce from indoor farms is more expensive than traditionally farmed crops.
Second, higher energy consumption means a bigger carbon footprint. Also, the mineral nutrients used in indoor farms are industrially produced at high concentrations. The production process involves mining, chemical synthesis and transport, which can lead to different types of environmental problems. The nutrient-rich water produced by indoor farms, if not properly disposed of, can contribute to the problem of red tides.
Third, only limited types of crops are grown in indoor farms, including herbs, leafy vegetables, berries and edible flowers. Crops that need high levels of sunlight or soil such as wheat, corn, soybeans and root vegetables are still not suitable for indoor farms.
Indoor farming is a nice addition to the existing systems for growing food. However, much more needs to be done to make this nascent sector economically viable and environmentally sustainable.