Vertical farming: How to bring a dream to reality

Expanding cities across the world rely increasingly on the global food network, but should they? Population growth, urbanisation and climate change place pressure on this network, bringing its resilience into question. For decades urban agriculture has been discussed in popular media and academia as a potential solution to improve food security, quality and sustainability. The new idol in this discussion is the vertical farm: A fully closed system for crop production.

Vertical farms can be engineered to precisely control the production climate, to steer crop growth, development and quality. The question remains whether this level of climate control is necessary, effective and/or efficient. This presentation will discuss the potential and limitations of vertical farms for urban food production and beyond. In which arena could the vertical farm reign supreme?

What drives you?
Trying to make sense of imminent, complex problems – one step at a time.

Why should the delegate attend your presentation?
Numbers behind feeding megacities using vertical farming.

What emerging technologies/trends do you see as having the greatest potential in the short and long run?

  1. The development of crop models that link the crop blueprint (genome map) and expected plant responses to the actual plant status in real-time via sophisticated plant-based sensors.
  2. Genetic engineering can improve the photosynthetic processes and the yield potential of crops. To this end, approaches and technologies will need to be studied, including new breeding techniques such as genome editing for the modification of endogenous genes and synthetic biology to produce designer promoters and proteins.

What kind of impact do you expect them to have?

  1. A true understanding of the plant processes will allow us to properly take advantage of climate control and will enable an optimal growing strategy. This applies across the open field, greenhouse horticulture and vertical farming.
  2. Increasing the photosynthetic efficiency of plants will be more effective for improving agricultural production than optimising crop production systems.

What are the barriers that might stand in the way?
The current lack of time, resources and collaborative mind-set required to innovate in this field. These are essential in the development of a sustainable food supply system. For genetic engineering, the potential hazards for existing plant life also need to be carefully examined.

About Luuk Graamans
Luuk Graamans is a researcher in high-tech agriculture at the business unit Greenhouse Horticulture of Wageningen Research. He is currently focused on further developing vertical farming research for international markets and on several projects pertaining to food resilience.
His background is in building engineering, studying at the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at Delft University of technology. Here he became interested in the challenges facing megacities and in particular the food resilience of cities. In a collaboration between Delft and Wageningen Luuk studied the interface of agricultural and building engineering to explore the potential integration of vertical farms in cities. He aimed to combine the expertise of both universities to produce his PhD thesis outlining the building design, systems engineering, and performance analysis of plant factories for urban food production.

Luuk Graamans will speak at the 2021 edition of the Vertical Farming Conference.

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