Horticulture depends on the weather — or at least it used to. Indoor grow facilities offer a new-age solution to one of agriculture’s biggest challenges. It was announced in January of 2022 that the world’s biggest indoor farming operation is planned for our home state of Pennsylvania.
They’ll be growing USDA certified organic, chemical-free produce and producing bass that meets stringent Best Aquaculture Practices requirements. They expect to massively reduce water and land usage in comparison to a traditional facility producing the same amount of produce, while also eliminating 1.7 million miles of supply chain transportation.
Agriculture has been a slow-to-automate industry, but more and more people are talking about indoor farming operations and grow facilities. What do they offer? What should you consider before building one?
- Sustainable Farming
- Climate-Controlled Farming Environment
- Maximum Usable Space
- Considerations: Locations, Energy Requirements
Earth’s population recently reached an estimated 8 billion people this year and is expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050 — that’s a lot of mouths to feed. Farmers and commercial agricultural businesses are busy trying to find ways to maximize food production while maintaining a finite amount of resources. All while making the entire process more efficient.
Limited available farmland and increased demand have made some intrepid owners and construction companies look upward. The USDA believes vertical farming provides viable solutions for increasing food security across the US and they have established grants to provide for research into the method. Indoor farming offers can also offer massive benefits to the environment.
Indoor farming facilities are a sustainable solution for agricultural businesses. As Forbes points out, hydroponic growing has eliminated the need for soil. This reduces water and soil pollution and erosion and allows for more efficient use of the land that is available.
Hydroponic growing operations have also pioneered fertilizers that don’t leech into the foods and are made from pure, less harmful ingredients than previous fertilizers. In contrast, more traditional agricultural fertilizing methods have caused disastrous effects on the environment, including being one of the largest producers of air pollution.
Indoor farming provides a less damaging, sustainable solution. Indoor vertical farming has been shown to use up to 95% less water than traditional farming, 90% less land, and up to 80% more produce is grown for the same amount of area. Crops can also be grown and harvested all year — even a Pennsylvania winter won’t stop production. That brings us to the next point: climate control.
Climate Controlled Farming Environment
Since humans began cultivating food, farmers have talked about the weather. When people began farming, about 12,000 years ago, society completely changed. Horticulture prompted people to develop long-lasting settlements, cities, kingdoms, and countries.
A “bad year” for weather could kill thousands, like the Megadrought of 1540 in Europe. Northern Italy went without rain for 200 days, and other European locations experienced the same lack of precipitation.
Across Europe rivers dried up, farmers’ fields developed cracks so big people could get stuck in them, and wildfires raged across the land. People honestly thought it was the End Times and with good cause — estimates mark that half a million people died across Europe during the 1540 Megadrought.
A climate-controlled horticultural facility avoids cold snaps, heat waves, and destructive insect plagues. Innovations in LED lighting efficiency are also being driven by the surge in indoor farming. It’s just a fact, 24-hour, perfectly climate-controlled temperatures offer the highest yields with far lower environmental impact.
Maximum Usable Space
While all vertical farms are “indoor farms,” not all indoor farms are vertical farms. Vertical farms seek to fully maximize available space by growing upwards, but even non-vertical indoor farming operations can create more produce than traditional methods. That’s due to hydroponic growing, climate-controlled environments, and more efficient use of even flat space.
Indoor vertical farming in particular is estimated to produce about 10 acres worth of produce in about 1 and ¼ acres of land. This maximizes production in otherwise very limited spaces or greatly increases the production of the land already being used for farming.
It’s estimated that about 50% of Earth’s habitable land is taken up by farmland. Imagine how much more food could be grown, and how many resources would be saved, if a fraction of that farmland were converted to indoor farms.
Considerations: Locations, Energy Requirements
One of the largest draws for indoor farming is the tremendously reduced travel for time-sensitive produce. This reduces vehicle emissions and demands on other parts of society’s infrastructure. Building an indoor farm close to urban areas also provides a fresh, cost-effective option to bring healthier food to more people. Indoor farms can also be constructed on established farms to further maximize their production. There are limits that must be considered, however.
Opponents of indoor farming site the massive energy required for these operations as a downside. Depending on the crop being grown, up to 16 hours of lighting is often necessary for maximum growth. While LED lighting options are increasingly efficient, that is still a lot of necessary energy — sometimes well over 50% of the entire facility’s energy bill. And that’s only lighting.
Indoor farms benefit from highly technical, advanced equipment. Systems are available that can even detect when a crop is ready to harvest and can automatically begin doing so. HVAC systems to provide ventilation and maintain temperatures and water recycling systems are just the beginning.
Some companies look to green energy sources for a solution to this issue. In fact, the Pennsylvania-planned largest indoor farm in the world will be run with 100% renewable energy sources. Solar power, hydropower, and wind turbines offer alternative energy sources. Some indoor horticulture facilities also use a mix of natural sunlight and only turn the lights on when the sun fails.
Indoor Farming is the Future of Farming
Innovations continue to drive efficiency into indoor farming. The Diffusion of Innovation theory forecasts a greater adaptation of this revolutionary method, especially as demand increases but supply stagnates.
Planning and building a successful, profitable, efficient indoor farming operation requires a team of knowledgeable, adaptable, and experienced architects, contractors, and suppliers. We find that owners often need guidance as to what components to use like choosing factory-insulated metal panels rather than saving money on a cheaper option.
At GALBRAITH, we welcome the chance to help you create an amazing grow facility that will forge the path for other undaunted pioneers. Contact us for more information or a consultation.