How Indoor Farming Supports Land Conservation
Plants need space to grow. Regardless of whether food comes from an open field, a greenhouse, or an indoor facility, it is ultimately connected to the land on which it’s produced. Moreover, unlike many other inputs that plants need – like sunlight and water – land is not a renewable resource.
Although it is estimated that only 30% of arable land worldwide is currently being farmed, the vast majority of the farmland still available is located in Africa and South America—meaning that expansion of local and national crop production is drastically limited for many countries. Additionally, out of all of this global land, 33% has been moderately to severely degraded due to climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices. We must therefore turn towards new solutions and strategies that preserve and make good use of our farmable areas.
At FreshBox Farms, one such solution to land consumption that we’re implementing is the usage of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). CEA encompasses a combination of indoor farming, hydroponics, and vertical agriculture technologies. These technologies allow us to grow crops while minimizing our land requirements. Let’s take a closer look at the struggles being faced within field farming, to better compare it to CEA, when it comes to land conservation.
Traditional Farming and Land Use:
What comes to mind when you hear the word, “Farm”? You might imagine an urban community plot, a mom-and-pop parcel with cows and a red barn, or the massive Midwest field that splays out for acres. None of these pictures is inaccurate, but when we’re discussing large-scale food production, the last is likely the closest to reality. Over the past several decades, enormous agribusinesses have consolidated more and more acreage, with the midpoint cropland acreage ballooning from 589 acres in 1982 to a huge 1,105 acres in 2007, an 88% increase. And, at the end of the day, most of the food that we eat in the United States does derive from this type of large-scale agricultural producer.
As such, there are a few aspects of a conventional farm’s land usage patterns that are worth noting. These include growing horizontally, over utilizing farmland, polluting other viable sources of land, and neglecting best practices for land conservation.
The Role of Urbanization, Pollution, and Climate Change on Farmable Land:
Even land that isn’t currently being farmed has its growing potential threatened by other human caused factors. Urbanization, for instance, is one concern. As population centers grow, and surrounding areas become developed, areas which may have been able to be used for agriculture are now being used to support these residences. The impact of this outward expansion has not been cited as a significant source of land reduction each year, but what could be significant is the rising demand for food in areas that may not have the capacity to scale local agricultural expansion in tandem.
Pollution is yet another facet that endangers our dwindling supply of land. Traditional agriculture requires a healthy soil composition. When chemical plants, Contained Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), or even other farms allow their waste to spread onto nearby plots or the waterways that farms draw from, arable land might be irreparably damaged for a lifetime or longer.
Lastly, climate change from greenhouse gas emissions also generates imminent threats to our farmland. As global temperatures rise, water tables that feed into our agricultural land will increasingly either dry out, causing drought, or be salinized by rising sea levels. A number of other factors including acidified soils, wind erosion, soil structure and organic matter levels all also contribute to potential issues of wide-scale land degradation.
FreshBox Farms and Our Dedication to Conserving Land:
FreshBox Farms grows using Controlled Environment Agriculture—a unique approach to food production that enables us to optimize our land usage. In fact, our farm requires only 1% of the land that an equivalent sized conventional field-farm would. Isn’t that extraordinary, considering what we now know?
Notably, the vertical nature of our farms is again one of the most obvious and important aspects of our ability to maximize land usage. Within each of our modular growing units, plants are grown on shelves, or racks, which allow us to grow in multiple planes that are stacked atop one another. This means that the available square footage of growing space in the footprint of one vertical farm can be multiples greater than that of a horizontal farm. And this quality translates especially well to urban regions, where horizontal space is difficult to come by.
Another crucial difference in our methodology is that we utilize hydroponics to raise our crops. Because of this, our plants do not require soil to grow. Unlike conventional agriculture, where farmers are subject to the negative impacts of soil erosion, pollution, urban encroachment, and other mentioned items, CEA growers do not encounter those same challenges. Instead, we are able to precisely control and monitor all of the inputs (nutrients, water quality, lighting, climate, etc…) required for the plant to grow, as well as all of the outputs (waste products) of our entire farming process. Subsequently, we can build a farm and produce food in areas where other growers would not be able to, due to soil erosion or pollution, since we are not constrained by the same limiting factors.
Lastly, because we are concerned with having as small an environmental impact as possible, we take steps to ensure that our plants uptake all of the nutrients we provide them with, so that any effluent waste is clean and non-damaging to our surrounding land – something that’s much more difficult for field farmers to implement. We also stay up-to-date on best practices within the industry, so that as the technology improves, and we expand our operations, we always minimize our required resource consumption.To read the full article, click here.
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