Vertical Farming: Definition, Types, and Pros & Cons

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From the very beginning of human civilization, man has been practicing various types of farming. Farming is called the greatest invention of mankind. Starting with agro-farming is now a big concept which has many branches, Aquaculture (Fish Farming), Arable Farming, Pastoral farming, Mixed Farming, Subsistence Farming, Commercial Farming, Poultry Farming, and many other types of farming are being practiced around the world. Vertical farming is primarily related to agriculture or agro-product production.

Why Vertical Farming Is Important  

According to World Population Prospects 2019, (WPP), by 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion people. Feeding these huge populations is really a big challenge. On the other hand, due to industrial development and urbanization, we are continuously losing our arable lands every day. In 2015, scientists reported that the Earth had lost a third of its arable lands over the previous 40 years.

As our agricultural land is becoming scarce and expensive due to excessive pressure on cultivable land with worldwide population growth, it is time to think about modern and scientific farming that requires less soil or even farming without soil.

One solution is here, and the farming method is vertical farming. This modern farming method involves growing crops in controlled indoor environments, with required light, demanded nutrients, and controlled temperatures. In a farming system, growing plants are stacked in layers that can reach several stories tall.

Vertical farming is becoming popular in many counties, like strawberry farming in Spain, Italy, England, and many other European countries. Tomato farming in the USA, Singapore, and commercial strawberry farming in India is an example of vertical farming. Commercial-scale vertical farms can change the face of farming in a new way in India.

The interest in this new farming technology is growing rapidly, and entrepreneurs in several Indian cities, Bangladesh, China, even third world countries are taking a serious look at this innovative and modern controlled farming system.

What Is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is the farming method that produces food on vertically included surfaces instead of spreading horizontally. In lieu of farming vegetables and other foods on a single level on a big land, such as in a field or an enclosed farm (greenhouse), this method produces foods in vertically stacked layers commonly integrated into other structures like a skyscraper, shipping container, or repurposed warehouse, using Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) technology.

Vertical Farming
Vertical Farming

This modern idea uses indoor farming techniques and artificially controlled temperature, light, humidity, and gases to make producing foods and medicine indoor possible. Though in many ways, vertical farming is similar to greenhouses, there are some differences also.  In vertical farming metal reflectors and artificial lighting grow natural sunlight. The primary object of commercial vertical farming is to maximize crop production and minimize using space.

How Vertical Farming Works

There are four important things to understand how vertical farming performs:  Physical layout, Lighting, Growing medium, and Sustainability features.

Firstly, the main object of vertical farming is to produce more foods in minimum space. To attain this goal, crops are cultivated in stacked layers in a tower life structure.

Secondly, a perfect combination of natural and artificial lights is created in the controlled area, which is used to maintain the perfect light level in the room or farm. Modern technologies such as rotating beds are used to improve lighting efficiency.

Thirdly, instead of soil, aeroponic, aquaponic, or hydroponic farming systems are used as growing crops. To run vertical farming you require peat moss or coconut husks, eggshells, and similar non-soil mediums, which are very common in vertical farming.

Finally, the vertical farming system uses some sustainability features to offset the energy cost of farming. In fact, vertical farming uses very few amounts of water, and it’s about 95% less water.

Types of Vertical Farms

The type of vertical farm doesn’t depend on the size of the farm, capital use, and production output. Unlike the identifying factor of a farm, vertical farm varies from different technics or cultures.  The very common form of vertical farms uses one of three soil-free systems for providing nutrients to plants—hydroponic, aeroponic, or aquaponic.


The dominant growing system commonly used in vertical farms, hydroponics implies growing plants in alimentary solutions that are free of soil. The plant roots are overwhelmed in the alimentary solution, which is often supervised and distributed to secure that the adjusted chemical composition is conserved.

 Hydroponics Farming System
Hydroponics Farming System; Image:


Aeroponics is another form of vertical farming, developed by NASA. In the 1990s, NASA was interested in finding efficient ways of farming in space, and finally, they developed an innovative indoor growing technique called “aeroponics”. They specified it as growing plants in soilless space and using very little water. 

Aeroponics systems are now not normal in the vertical farming world, but they are appealing to significant interest. An aeroponic system is by far the most effective plant-growing system for vertical farms, soil-free and using up to 90% less water than even the most efficient hydroponic systems. Plants grown in this method have also been shown to uptake more minerals and vitamins, making the plants healthier and potentially more nutritious.

Aeroponics Farming System
Aeroponics Farming System; Image:


We can compare it with mixed farming or integrated farming. This system is accomplished by combining farming, that is plant farming and fish farming in the same ecosystem.  Commercial aquaculture is practiced in indoor concrete or plastic ponds instead of an earthen pond, producing nutrient-rich waste that is used as a feed source for the plants in the vertical farm. Like Biofloc farming here the plants, in turn, filter and purify the wastewater, which is recycled to the fish ponds.

Vertical farming systems can be further classified by the type of structure that houses the system.

Building-based vertical farms

Shipping-container vertical farms 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Vertical Farms?

Dickson Despommier, in his book The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century, listed a number of environmental and social advantages of vertical farming. The following are an adaptation of Despommier’s major points:

Preparation for Future

According to World Urbanization Prospects (WUP) 2018 by 2050, around 68% of the total population in the world is expected to live in cities or urban areas, and this huge population will certainly lead to an increased demand for food. The perfect use of vertical farming can play a vital role to face such a challenge. 

Ensure Continuous Crop Production

A commercial vertical farming system can ensure continuous crop production year-round in both tropical and non-tropical regions. And the productivity is much more efficient than general land-based farming. According to Despommier, a single indoor acre of a vertical farm can produce yield equivalent to more than 30 times from the same amount of normal farmland. Even, In fact, Columbia University Earth Institute in their Vertical Farms: From Vision to Reality, argues that 1 acre of an indoor area offers equivalent production to at least 4 to 6 acres of outdoor capacity.

Elimination of Herbicides & Pesticides Uses

To make a controlled environment you need to reduce or total abandonment of using pesticides and herbicides. Instead of these type pesticides modern vertical farmer uses ladybugs and other biological controls system according to need. So vertical farming allows us to grow pesticide-free and organic crops which is becoming more popular in the modern world. 

Water Conservation and Recycling

Normally hydroponic growing techniques use about 70% less water than normal agro-farming. Again, Columbia University Earth Institute proves that vertical farm requires us to produce crops with 70% to 95% less water than required for normal cultivation. 

Not Affected By Unfavorable Weather Conditions

Another importance is using safe water because crops in a vertical farm are grown under a manmade controlled environment; they are totally safe from extreme weather occurrences such as droughts, hail, floods, and any other natural disasters. Water treatment is less required in a vertical farm, this is why – vertical farms can perform throughout the year.

Human and Environmentally Friendly

Modern vertical farming has significantly lessened the occupational health hazards comparing with traditional farming. Farmers are not discovered to hazards related to heavy farming equipment, diseases like malaria, harmful insects, toxicant chemicals, and so on. As it does not disturb farming animals and trees in inland areas, it is good for biodiversity as well.

Limitations of Vertical Farming

In spite of these comprehended advantages of vertical farms, some agricultural experts doubt that the costs and benefits will figure out. We have tried to find out the limitation of vertical farming, and finally, we have noticed some of the disadvantages of vertical farming: these are as bellows. 

Land and Building Costs

In cities, vertical farming is quite expensive. Some existing vertical farms are based in deserted warehouses, abandoned ships, or Superfund sites, which can be more economical for construction. The initial investment for vertical farming requires a big amount comparing with normal farming.

Energy Cost & labor Cost

To make a controlled environment in the indoor farm, initial infrastructural cost and providing continuous energy lead a huge cost. The vertical farm requires experienced and technically skilled labor, so labor costs will be high to run a vertical farm.  

Limited Number of Crop Species

A commercial vertical farm focuses on high-value, rapid-growing, small-footprint, and quick-turnover crops, such as lettuce, basil, strawberry, tomato, and other salad items. Side by side comparatively slower-growing vegetables, as well as grains, aren’t as profitable in a commercial vertical farming system.


Vertical farming technologies are still relatively new to poor farmers. Various companies and NGOs are yet to successfully commercial produce crops at scale and make them economically executable to meet the growing food demand. The performance of farms like Agro-farms will ascertain how vital a role vertical farming will play in the future to face the challenge of growing food demand.

It is worth noting, however, that technologies developed for vertical farms are also being adopted by other segments of the indoor farming sector, such as greenhouses, which can utilize natural sunlight, albeit requiring much more real estate and longer routes to market.

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