The Future of Vertical Farming

Imagine coming into your neighborhood grocery store on a chilly January day to purchase freshly gathered lettuce, fragrant basil, juicy sweet strawberries, and beautiful red tomatoes, all of which were collected only hours before you arrived at a local farm. You could imagine purchasing fresh vegetables from vertical farms, where farmers can grow year-round indoors by managing light, temperature, water, and, in some cases, carbon dioxide levels. Compared to conventional food, which can travel thousands of miles by truck or plane, fresh produce cultivated in vertical farms often travels only a few miles to reach grocery store shelves.

Vertical agriculture could assist improve food production and expanding agricultural operations, and offering fresh local products, as the world’s population is expected to approach 9 billion by 2050. By 2050, two out of every three people will be anticipated to live in cities. By reducing distribution chains to offer lower emissions, providing higher-nutrient produce, and drastically reducing water usage and runoff, fresh greens and vegetables produced close to these growing urban populations could help meet growing global food demands in an environmentally responsible, sustainable way.

A stakeholder workshop on vertical agriculture and sustainable urban ecosystems was recently sponsored by the USDA and the Department of Energy. Field specialists gave thought-provoking talks at this workshop, followed by small group discussions on topics like plant breeding, pest control, and engineering. Workshop participants from the public and private sectors collaborated to identify vertical farming’s difficulties, needs, and potential. A report on the workshop will be produced to help shape USDA’s internal research goals and external funding options for stakeholders and researchers.

We’re enthusiastic about the potential for vertical agriculture to help with food security. As a result, USDA has already set up some of these financing and research possibilities. Future vertical agriculture conferences and research could be supported by funding opportunities from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (PDF, 1.22 MB). In a similar vein, the Agricultural Research Service is working on a project to boost tomato production and quality in greenhouses and other controlled conditions in the United States.

We look forward to continuing our relationship with our internal and external customers.